Neurorehabilitation at Psicon (NAP)

News and Views

The complicated consequences of brain injury in impact sports

Reaction to the NFL's $1billion 'concussion settlement' 

An article on The Guardian website, published on 18 April 2016, has highlighted the complications of repetitive head injuries sustained by players in America’s National Football League (NFL).

A total of 271 NFL players were diagnosed with concussion in 2015, and while immediate symptoms such as memory loss, blurred vision, and disorientation may all in themselves benefit from clinical support, the trauma's long-term impact on neurological functioning can be harder to predict.

It is therefore feared that the recent $1billion settlement for neurologically-damaged former players, upheld by a federal appeals court in April 2016, may fail to account for the latent effects of traumatic brain injury. With autopsies of American football players as young as 17 years old revealing traces of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) – a condition that results from repeated blows to the head and causes a lifelong deterioration in cognitive and physical functioning – critics of the settlement argue that its cap of $5million per person will be insufficient.

Mr LJ Conradie, Consultant Clinical Neuropsychologist at Psicon, commented, “These investigations and findings may contribute to parents questioning the wisdom of their children’s participation in sports, like NFL or rugby, in which athletes regularly sustain head injuries.”

Mr Conradie also highlighted the importance of prevention, suggesting that research into what might reduce the rate of brain injury in contact sports should be prioritised. “As far as possible athletes should wear head protection,” he said, “however, it is clear that in spite of the helmets worn in the NFL, athletes still suffer significant injuries. If it proves impossible to prevent head injuries in certain sports, then the topic of compensation for neurological damage will become increasingly prominent.”