Football is not a sport I follow… nor can I tell the difference between a tight end and a bookend but apparently we have something in common besides the ‘armchair quarterback’ metaphor I use in my clinical practice.
Recently I attended a seminar on the use of High Performance Neurofeedback treatment for former NFL players. As it turns out, there is a high incidence of traumatic brain injury (TBI) among football players and other athletes who sustain repetitive blows to the head.
One speaker who played professionally for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Seattle Seahawks of the NFL spoke of devastating effects he has experienced from concussions sustained on the field. He described chronic nerve pain, joint and muscle pain, flu-like symptoms, feeling faint, weak and often flushed. The player said he’s been tested for an assortment of rare conditions and received various diagnoses including Crohn’s disease and Fibromyalgia.
Despite his relatively young age, tests show his brain has decreased white matter, i.e., that of an 80 year old; pituitary shutdown; decreased testosterone; sensitivity to noises and the inability to focus or concentrate because his brain is constantly spinning. Medication has been used for chronic inflammation, neuropathy and anxiety.
Apparently the inside joke is that NFL stands for ‘not for long’. Other anecdotal information is that players are instructed to ‘follow the silver in the bench’ when they are so injured and disoriented they can barely function, as was the case of a player whose eye was literally knocked askew.
Researchers spoke of the effects of TBI: memory loss, depression, anxiety, irritability, anger, headaches, chronic pain, fatigue, sleeplessness, and autoimmune diseases. Sleeplessness alone, from the inability to quiet an overactive brain can have devastating effects on physical and mental health.
According to one expert, most NFL players experience ten or more concussions in their careers; and hockey is just as bad. The bigger picture is 1,500,000 incidents per year of TBI in all walks of life. The upshot for those with TBI is that being around friends and family can be extremely difficult due to constant physical, mental and emotional distress, which in turn can lead to isolation and sometimes even suicide.
The seminar left me thinking about the lack of treatment due to undiagnosed cases of TBI from auto accidents, falls, domestic violence and other events. Obviously being knocked unconscious or having a bleeding head is hard to ignore and will get some attention. But for those with closed head injuries without loss of consciousness, the medical professional may not suspect a TBI which may be out of sight, not out of mind.