The Struggle With Concussions, MTBI and PTSD

Concussions have been in the news a lot since the movie came out in 2015. Like many other “hidden conditions”, the mainstream is slow to change.

I played twelve years of professional football so I have seen my fair share of concussions and the nagging after effects. My best friend, Shannon, was an all-star linebacker at the University of Arkansas, leading them to the Cotton Bowl as a freshman!

Unfortunately, playing that position made him more susceptible to concussions. I got to experience his “sticking his face in the hole” while playing High School football. One particular game he was looking at me in the huddle, blood running down his face.

“Shannon, you’ve got blood on your face,” I told him.

There was a long pause as he contemplated what I had said…

“Does it look mean?” was all he said.

That was, and for the most part, still is how players consider injuries. They have grown up being told to “rub some dirt on it” and get back out there.

Luckily, today we are supposed to be more educated on the dangers of concussions, not only in athletes, but in everyone. Car accidents, amusement park rides and even equestrian events can cause mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI).

The inspiration for this article is two-fold.

1) My friend, Shannon, went on to commit suicide at the young age of 22. He had suffered from an ankle injury which prevented him from “being the best”. I believe the multiple head injuries he had experienced during his younger days may have led him to this horrible end.

2) My own father has been diagnosed with early-onset Dementia. He is an example of someone that played football as an undersized kid but finally quit at the age of 16. I don’t know if his Dementia was caused by his early head traumas but the fact that he has this cognitive impairment scares me to death!

How could I help people suffering like Shannon and my Dad?

After my football career ended I went on to become a Doctor of Chiropractic and focused on sports nutrition. But more on that in a minute…

There are a multitude of assessment tools out there for concussions. The NFL has teamed up with the CDC and created the SCAT3 test. This assessment tool incorporates 4 tests in one. While that may seem “good” I personally prefer a simpler approach.

The King-Devick test is an easy to understand and, more importantly, to implement during athletic events. Every athlete is given a baseline assessment in the offseason so that they can easily compare themselves to, well, themselves! There is no standard that everyone should be compared to with the SCAT3 test.

The King-Devick test utilizes a visual test that is timed. This makes it easy to stay objective. If, after an mTBI, an athlete takes longer to do the test then they fail. It consists of a series of numbers that they read. Sometimes concussed individuals start reading incorrect numbers or even say words instead! Scary stuff but it’s a quick and easy way to assess cognitive function.

I recently met with the ladies from Beyondconcussion, a concussion support group located in San Diego, California. I was shocked to hear that the San Diego school District does not require baseline assessments for their student athletes!

This is my call to action! We must contact ALL school districts to initiate baseline testing for their student athletes… ultimately ALL student should be assessed. There is a neurometabolic cascade of events that occurs in the brain after an mTBI that can be addressed but NOT if there is no assessment tool utilized to determine if they have had a concussion in the first place!

I’ll cover that “cascade of concussion” in a another article but summarize it here. The basic problem is that trauma causes a massive depolarization of the neurons in the brain that leads to ionic changes causing an enormous energy crisis. This leads to headaches, visual disturbances, audiophobia and more. The neurons themselves can be damaged via the mechanical trauma involved which leads to cognitive dysfunction and prolonged susceptibility to future brain injury.

Contact your school board and ask them if they perform baseline tests on their student athletes. If not, refer them to the King-Devick Test website.