The risk of brain injury in football and other sports

The risk of brain injury in football and other sports


With the sudden surge of high impact sport overtaking our lives and television screens throughout the EURO Championships 2020, and now most recently the end of the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, people are engaging with sport more than ever. Whether you’re an avid sports fan or not, from a care group perspective it is an important time to educate and raise awareness of the possibility of sustaining a brain injury and outcomes in football and other highly publicised sports.

A traumatic brain injury (TBI) can occur from a ‘blow or jolt to the head or a penetrating head injury that disrupts the normal function of the brain.’ A TBI can be mild, moderate, or severe depending on the extent of trauma entering the brain tissue upon impact. In a football or rugby game the risks of a head injury are everywhere, from a collision with another player, violent tackles, trip hazards, and even heading the ball.

Growing fears have called for new guidelines, following research showing former footballers were three-and-a-half times more likely to die from brain disease, resulting in children being banned from heading footballs in training. BBC News reported that ‘a football weighs almost half a kilogram, and scientists have calculated that it can strike a players head at speeds up to 128km/h.’ It is likely that heading a ball can cause bruising in the skull and a mild to severe concussion, with risks of significant damage over an extended period of time.

Athletes are frequently affected by concussion in all sports; however, the highest incidence of traumatic brain injury is seen in football, rugby, hockey, and horse riding. Sustaining repeated brain injuries such as concussion can result in the progressive degenerative disease named chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). Typical symptoms include short term memory loss, mood swings, confusion, and difficulty thinking. As the condition progresses, you may also experience slurred speech, significant memory problems, and even symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.

In 2014, The Drake Foundation committed to improving the understanding of concussion and long-term brain health in athletes. Their work focuses on improving sports and researching neurodegenerative diseases such as dementia in their scientific work to protect players after serious concussion injuries that were not dealt with correctly. Behavioural therapy and pain management therapy can help treat CTE, both therapies are offered in our residential and care in the home services for all of our patients dealing with neurological injuries.

At Active Care Group, we support and encourage all forms of exercise and sport as a healthy and fulfilling hobby for the people we support. However, to prevent injury in football and all sports, it is important to wear proper equipment at all times, incorporate neck-strengthening exercises into training, and to prevent violent behaviour on the field. Whilst those with CTE can still live healthy and fulfilling lives, you can lessen your risk by taking proper care of brain trauma by resting and following “return to play” guidelines. To learn more about the neurological care we offer, visit our website here.