Following the Super Bowl last Sunday, the attention has turned to what the NFL and other organizations have been doing to lower the risk of concussions, including new helmets and new regulations.
Dr. Philip Stieg, chairman, and founder of the Weill Cornell Medicine Brain and Spine Center, joined The Cats Roundtable this Sunday to share new research about traumatic brain injuries and what’s being done to reduce the risk of head injuries on and off the field.
While most attention has been on Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy or CTE, a degenerative disease brought on by repetitive brain trauma, and the finding of the disease in ex-NFL players, Dr. Stieg says it’s not just football that carries a risk.
“All sport carries the risk of head trauma,” he said, adding “parents, coaches, and trainers are starting to play a prominent role in preventing those kinds of injuries.”
Dr. Stieg explained that he has been conducting research into individuals who have donated their brains after long-term head injuries, where the risk of CTE is strongest. Since CTE causes the destruction of the nerve cells within the brain, it leads to cognitive and behavioral changes.
Changes are occurring in a variety of sports to address the evidence, such as rules in football that avoid helmet to helmet contact, or rules in soccer that prevent kids under the age of fourteen from heading the ball.
Dr. Stieg explains that it’s the vigilance of parents, coaches, and trainers to the risk of major head blow that can prevent injuries; but ultimately it’s those kids who want to play sports and their parents, who have to think reasonably.
For professional football in particular, Dr. Stieg believes improvements are underway, such as the implementation of bigger helmets that take into account the risk of helmet-to-helmet contact and the times that the helmet hits the ground, which is equally as likely to cause a concussion.
“They’re still trying to come up with the perfect helmet,” Dr. Stieg explained, but the current helmet is “much better.”
“There’s nothing that’s ever going to alleviate all the impact that can occur with bodies that size,” he added.
While the importance of helmets shouldn’t be downplayed, Dr. Stieg says it only covers some of the risks. Whether it be riding a bike or playing football, he explained that a helmet shouldn’t lead one to become “more reckless.”
“The helmet doesn’t protect your cervical spine,” he said. “So if you fall off a bike, or if you take a spill on a mountain skiing, you’re still at high risk for a cervical spine injury, which can be equally devastating.”