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NFL rookie retires over fear of head trauma

March 17, 2015

Concussions and their debilitating effects – which have received plenty of attention lately, especially in the NFL and youth sports – are back in the media spotlight.

Fear of head trauma

On March 16, San Francisco 49ers linebacker Chris Borland, one of the NFL's top rookies this past season, announced his early retirement at the young age of 24 because of concerns about the long-term effects of repetitive head trauma.

“As a former athlete, I can tell you how hard it is to let go of a sport, and this is a very brave decision by Borland. There has been an increased awareness of concussions in the NFL, and it is nice to know that athletes are being proactive and making hard decisions like this about their long term health,” said Dr. Julio Martinez-Silvestrini, medical director of Outpatient Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation and Baystate Rehabilitation Care.

“We see a lot of concussions very early into the practice season when some student athletes are out of shape. If an athlete is not really fit for the particular sport he or she is playing, the risk of concussions and other injuries is higher,” he added.

What is a concussion?

A concussion is a head injury that occurs with or without the loss of consciousness and changes how the cells in the brain normally function. Concussions are most often caused by a blow to the head or body that causes the brain to move rapidly inside the skull. 

They may result in:

  • headaches
  • dizziness or balance problems
  • nausea or vomiting
  • confusion
  • blurry vision
  • sensitivity to light and noise
  • feeling “foggy”
  • a variety of other symptoms

Children and teens are more likely to get a concussion, and take longer to recover, than adults.

According to Dr. Martinez-Silvestrini, who is board certified in sports medicine, an undiagnosed concussion followed by a repeat injury before the brain heals can slow recovery and lead to long-term problems such as memory loss, psychological problems, brain damage and may also be a risk factor for developing ALS or even Parkinsonian syndromes.

Preventing concussions

When it comes to preventing concussions, especially on the football field, wearing a helmet is essential, but not foolproof in protecting athletes.

“Most helmets will prevent very serious injuries such as skull fractures, but minor concussions may still happen, even if the player is not hit directly in the head. While there have been little steps in the right direction, we still haven’t seen big advances in developing even safer protective equipment to help prevent injuries,” Dr. Martinez-Silvestrini said. “Prevention is also about good sportsmanship, such as not engaging in the dangerous practice of giving your opponent a head butt on the football field, which can result in a concussion or neck injury.”

Baystate Medical Center’s Sports Concussion Clinic offers a comprehensive program modeled after the pioneering University of Pittsburgh Sports Concussion Program. The clinic evaluates and treats injured athletes through a multi-disciplinary program involving neuropsychology, physiatry, and rehabilitation care at the hospital.

The clinic utilizes the ImPACT™ test employed by all major professional sports leagues, division I colleges, and many high schools, as part of its evaluation and management protocol. Dr. Zachary Marowitz, the clinic’s neuropsychologist, is a Certified ImPACT™ Consultant.

To schedule an appointment at the clinic, call 413-794-5555.