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Not just football: more on sports and types of head injuries

It’s Super Bowl Sunday today, and much of the news this year is about– yes, you guessed it– head injuries impact sports, and the risks of CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy) in football, from children to teens to NFL players.  Ever since this report on deceased NFL players came out,  there’s been increased media awareness and acceptance of the fact that repeated head injuries can lead to debilitating diseases like dementia, depression, and other severe degenerative brain conditions.  I co-wrote a post with Julia F-C about CTE here, asking what we know about concussions in women.

One person who does know a lot about concussions in women is Meena, who’s written extensively about the experience of concussion, the long road to recovery, and what that looks like from the point of view of a runner.  You can find her blogs here.

Since that study, there has been a lot of published research strongly suggested that concussions may not be the source of CTE and other chronic neurological and psychological conditions in athletes.  Hits to the head in general, not necessarily concussions, may be the source of long-term neurological damage.  Gretchen Reynolds of the New York Times writes here of some recent developments in research, suggested that the effects of even sub-concussive heady injury may  result in severe damage.  There’s another article here from the Washington Post about the effects of even mild head injuries.

But head injuries and the damage from them are not limited to contact sports.  It turns out, spinning in figure skaters subjects them to g-forces on their brains that aren’t as large as those in football, but they experience them for much longer, which worries researcher David Wang (from this article).  Figure skater Lucinda Ruh, well-known for her spins, was experiencing various debilitating symptoms.

“It was devastating. For 5 years I felt like I was going to die. I still have symptoms here and there,” she said.

Doctor after doctor could not diagnose her health problems, according to Lucinda, until one physician finally traced her symptoms to her skating.

“He put all the pieces together and said, ‘I think you’ve been suffering from concussions, ongoing little concussions every single day’ and that was causing all my symptoms,” said Lucinda.

Research Dr. David Wang explains below how spinning may be hazardous for skaters.

“Now when you hear about football forces and people getting hit in the head where you’re talking about 80 G’s, certainly that’s a lot more force. But the impact time is much shorter. It’s an instant, where [skaters] they’re holding this force for a period of time and they’re doing it repetitively over and over and over again. So you can imagine it actually adds up,” said Dr. Wang.

Dr. Wang said so far his data shows spinning can induce headaches and dizziness in skaters, but serious concussion-like symptoms are only a concern in extreme cases like Lucinda’s.

His current research proves there are significant forces to the head during spinning. Next, Dr. Wang wants to answer the questions of how much spinning is too much, and whether these symptoms are in fact part of a concussion.

This research is in preliminary stages, so we don’t yet know how various g-forces in various amounts to the head over time contribute to degeneration.  We want to move and spin and kick and jump and yes, sometimes make contact with others in the course of our physical activity.  It’s good to keep an eye on developing research on how to do these things in ways that support all the things we want to do over hopefully a long life of movement, sport and physical activity.  Stay tuned here for updates.



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