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What Football Does to Players' Heads

Now that the NFL has signed a contract that will allow the football season to begin again, it's worth thinking about what the game is doing to players' brains. Walking and thinking at the same time--not to mention THINKING AND RUNNING--something both soldiers and NFL players need to do--can be especially difficult for people who have suffered concussions.

Our NFL players are seeing stars, and scientists are trying to find a way to test players for brain injuries right on the field, so they don't make them worse by continuing to play (and maybe getting hit again). And while we're at it, let's get these guys some new helmets: Tests show that game-worn football face shields are more susceptible to breaking when subjected to high-velocity impact than are the new ones. Players may like their old helmets for sentimental reasons, but they should put them on the shelf if they want to stay safe.

By asking an someone to walk a short distance while saying the months of the year in reverse order, researchers say they can determine if that person is impaired and possibly suffering from a concussion. This simple test, which could be performed on the sideline of a sporting event or on a battlefield, has the potential to help coaches and commanders decide if athletes and soldiers are ready to engage in activity again. Researcher Jennifer Palmer says, "When a person with a concussion performs cognitive and motor skill tasks simultaneously, they have a different gait pattern than a healthy individual, and we can identify those anomalies in a person’s walk with radar."

More than 1 million concussions and other mild traumatic brain injuries are reported each year in the United States and catching them right after they happen can improve treatment and prevent further injury or other long-term health issues. Diagnosing concussions can be difficult, though, because the symptoms of concussions are not always easily visible or detectable, even though they last for weeks or months following the incident. Optometrist Aaron Zimmerman says, "Once a week the shields should be inspected, particularly where they fasten to the helmet. But players should be encouraged to glance a face shield over before each practice and game. And if there's a deep scratch or crack present, it definitely needs to be replaced."

Researcher Kristin Bing says, "For the military, we envision the system could fit into a tough box so that commanders can have it in the field. They could simply press a button, connect the radar system to a laptop, and an easy-to-use interface would display the results and tell them whether their soldier is exhibiting signs of a concussion."

We're not sure how many of our readers and listeners may have concussions, but we do think that a lot of you need to have your heads examined. How in the world do you think this website that you love so much can keep going without your support? We need you and in turn, we fill your head with all kinds of fascinating information, so what are you waiting for? Subscribe today!



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