Entries in Head Injuries (3)


No Device Eliminates Concussion Risk, Experts Say

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- As the long-term consequences of concussions become more clear, a cottage industry has popped up to sell athletes and worried parents products designed to mitigate risks of concussions that even helmets cannot prevent.

Despite the bold claims of some companies, however, many experts say the Holy Grail in contact sports -- a device that prevents concussions -- simply does not exist.  Indeed, experts say, there is no proof that any current device significantly reduces the risk of concussions beyond the protections already provided by helmets.

ABC's Nightline found several products for sale online that aim to reduce the risk of concussions or even alert parents and coaches when a kid has supposedly taken a concussion-level hit.  The claims the manufacturers make are often breathtakingly reassuring.

Concern about the risk of concussion is mounting at every level of the gridiron from the NFL to colleges and even high schools.  Concussions are the most common injury among high school football players.

Jennifer Branin, whose son Tyler Branin is one of the stars of the Woodbridge Warriors high school football team in Irvine, Calif., said "it was scary" the first time he had a concussion.

"He had lost his balance on the field," she said.  "He got up and tried to continue, but couldn't keep his balance."

She said the effects of the concussion lingered, causing Tyler to miss a week of school and football practice.  Even months later, he complained of difficulty concentrating in class.

So Jennifer decided to do something.  She raised money to buy the team helmet inserts by Unequal Technologies for added protection.

Unequal Technologies, one of the highest profile players in this new market, described its product explicitly on the box as "Concussion Reduction Technology," or "CRT."  It is a strip of composite material including bullet-proof Kevlar that is designed to stick inside the helmet as a liner to the existing helmet pads.

Unequal Technologies uses its material in products ranging from padded sleeves to shin guards.  The company counts NFL players and X-Games athletes among its fans.

On board as paid spokesmen are Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick and James Harrison, a linebacker for the Pittsburgh Steelers.  Harrison is one of the hardest-hitting guys in the NFL and said he uses Unequal Technology's liners in his helmet.

"I don't know what it's made of but it works," Harrison says in one of Unequal's promotional videos.  "I really don't feel like I'm taking a risk."

Vick wasn't wearing the CRT product when he suffered a season-ending concussion in November, but he has since promised that he will be wearing it when he returns to the field next season.

Rob Vito, founder and CEO of the Kennett Square, Pa.-based company, said he worked with scientists to create a military-grade composite material that can help protect athletes from all kinds of injuries from head to toe.

Unequal Technologies' product tests were conducted at the Southern Impact Research Center in Rockford, Tenn., one of the nation's leading testing labs for sports equipment.  Engineer Dave Halstead, the lab's technical director, said it's important to understand that helmets have come a long way in keeping players safe from a certain kind of head injury, the kind caused by direct, linear force.

But when asked if there was a device or an add-on currently on the market that can fully protect players' from the risk of head injury, Halstead said "absolutely not."

"That magic bullet, that if you just do this you can continue to play the way you are and you're immune from injury, it just doesn't work," he said.  "There is no such device."

The modern helmet already offers excellent protection against direct hits, which produce sharp, linear forces against the skull.  But many doctors believe sports-induced concussions are caused by shearing, rotational forces, which occur when the head snaps back and swerves around on the neck, slamming the brain against the inside of the skull.

There is no proof that products like Unequal Technologies' strips protect against those injuries -- the ones suspected of frequently causing concussions.

Halstead's testing did show that the Unequal strips can reduce the severity of a linear, direct impact from some angles, but not from others.  But even Vito acknowledged he cannot prove those results reduce the risk of concussions.

"No, we can't make that claim at this point, it's too early on," he said.

But Vito said his company only claims to "help reduce the possibility of head injury," adding, "We never mention the word 'concussion,'" although the product's name is "Concussion Reduction Technology."

"There might be some confusion," Vito acknowledged, maintaining that his company is not claiming its product reduce concussions, saying, "One is a name and one is a claim and our claim is that we help reduce the possibility of head injury."

After the ABC News interview, Unequal Technologies sent Nightline what it said would be the new packaging for its product, which says just "CRT" now.  The words "Concussion Reduction Technology" have been removed.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Hockey Hits Can Lead to Severe Traumatic Brain Injury

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(PITTSBURGH) -- Hits and checks have long been accepted as inherent to the game of hockey, but a decision by the NHL's biggest star to sit out of the game indefinitely represents only the latest professional athlete to suffer lasting injuries to the brain.

Sidney Crosby last week cited lingering concussion-like symptoms from at least one blow to the head that left him out of the game for 10 months.

"I've got to make sure with these sort of things that I'm careful and aware and making sure I'm 100 percent before I come back," Crosby, 24, told reporters in Pittsburgh last Monday. "You've got to listen to your body on these things."

Frustrated with the long-term risk of these sports, one neurologist, along with many others in agreement, called for a ban on intentional hitting and fighting in the game of hockey.

Dr. Rajendra Kale, neurologist and interim editor-in-chief of the journal CMAJ, published an editorial Monday that cites several athletes who experienced repetitive blows to the head during contact sports. Such hits led to severe medical problems, including short-term and long-term memory loss, chronic headaches, sleep disorders, mood and behavioral problems, psychiatric changes and even early onset dementia.

"When you find any tradition is causing damage to human's brain, it's time to change traditions," Kale told "We found traditions that are harmful and we need to give them up."

Symptoms of concussions include headache, nausea, confusion and loss of memory. Lingering effects can last for days, weeks or months, depending on the severity of the blow.

While Kale noted in the editorial that he was fascinated by the skill, grace and physical fitness needed to play hockey, he "was appalled by the disgraceful and uncivilized practice of fighting and causing intentional head trauma. The tragic story of Sidney Crosby's layoff due to concussions has not been sufficient for society to hang its head in shame and stop violent play immediately."

Kale cited three other hockey players -- Rick Martin, Reggie Fleming and Bob Probert -- who have been diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalophy, or CTE, a progressive degenerative disease found in people who have sustained several concussions or other head injuries.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Derek Boogaard: NHL Enforcer Had Brain Disease

Bruce Bennett/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Derek Boogaard, the former National Hockey League player who died from a drug overdose at age 28 in May, had chronic traumatic encephalopathy -- a progressive brain disease linked to concussions.

Dr. Ann McKee, director of neuropathology at the Bedford VA Medical Center and co-director of Boston University's Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy, examined Boogaard's brain and determined it showed signs of early CTE -- a post-mortem diagnosis he shared with more than 50 other athletes, including other hockey players, football players, wrestlers and boxers, according to the center's research.

"Unfortunately this finding does not contribute to our knowledge of the risks of normal hockey play for most participants, as very few hockey players engage in as many fights as Boogaard," Chris Nowinski, who co-directs the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy with McKee, said in a statement. "Athletes and parents should know that anyone who experiences repetitive brain trauma may be at risk to develop CTE, but we are hopeful that risk is small in hockey."

Boogaard was one of the NHL's most aggressive players, reportedly participating in more than 60 regular season fights. According to his family, Boogaard had his "bell rung" at least 20 times, but reported few concussions to his team or medical staff.

CTE shares features with Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and Lou Gehrig's disease. When severe, it can lead to dementia, impulsivity and rage.

In the two years before his death, Boogaard suffered from emotional instability, impulse control problems, short-term memory loss and disorientation. His death came months before the apparent suicides of two fellow NHL 'enforcers,' 35-year-old Wade Belak of the Nashville Predators and 27-year-old Rick Rypien of the Winnipeg Jets.

Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy co-director Dr. Robert Cantu said in a statement: "...based on the small sample of enforcers we have studied, it is possible that frequently engaging in fistfights as a hockey player may put one at increased risk for this degenerative brain disease."

Boogaard's brain is one of 99 athlete brains already received by the VA Brain Bank. Of 70 analyzed, more than 50 have shown signs of CTE.

More than 500 living athletes, including more than a dozen former hockey players, have agreed to donate their brains to the VA Brain Bank -- a gift they hope will protect future athletes.

"I think this is an enormous problem for athletes," McKee said of CTE. "By signing on to this research, they promote their own long-term safety and certainly the safety of future players."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio