FORT WAYNE, Ind. (www.incnow.tv) - An estimated 3.8 million athletes each year in the U.S. suffer a sports-related traumatic brain injury.
Many times these dangers to health are never even brought to a doctor's attention.
In a special report, Corralling Concussions, we look at the problem and what is being done to keep athlete, especially in youth sports, safe,
Initial symptoms often include headaches, dizziness and confusion.
Further reasearch finds many head trauma can cause dementia and depression later in life. The dementia and depress can be so bad, victims often commit suicide.
It's no secrett he most popular sport in America today has a concussion crisis.
In the NFL, players who are bigger, stronger and faster collide like freight trains. And in those collisions, the biggest casualty can be the human brain.
"I tackled him and I landed on the ground. I hit the back of my head, like I had headaches for like two weeks," said Peterson Kerlegrand of Fort Wayne, who suffered a concussion in middle school playing football for Holy Cross Lutheran School.
He had another more severe one in a wrestling match.
"I ended up winning, but when I was done, I was like, started crying because it hurt so bad."
"They told me to go down to the trainer's office, and I wandered the wrong way," said Logan Glaze, a Leo High School lineman, who has a fuzzy recollection of his big concussion moment.
But he's crystal clear on the risks.
"The hits are getting harder and I guess if your skull isn't completely formed when you're that young, I guess that it could be dangerous," Glaze said.
Traumatic brain injuries are a real possibility in high school football, but other sports, like soccer, aren't immune from problems either.
"The concern is once you have a concussion is that you're more likely to have a second one," said Lisa Falotico, an osteopathic doctor in Fort Wayne, who has seen her share of sports-related concussions.
She is encouraged that equipment manufacturers are working hard to develop better headgear to counter concussions.
In some cases, sensors are placed in helmets to measure the force of hits.
But she’s even more pleased about a new Indiana law that started last year, requiring athletes exhibiting concussion-like symptoms to sit out until they get clearance from a physician.
"If you suspect anything, pull them. It's one game, who cares. They have a longer life to live," Dr. Falotico said.
Medical science is making strides in figuring out the long-term impacts of concussions.
One of the leading authorities on the subject recently paid this area a visit.
" It became my goal to make us treat concussions differently, so athletes didn't lose their health like I did," said Chris Nowinski.
Nowinski, a former Harvard University All-Ivy League lineman and World Wrestling Entertainment Hardcore Champion, uses his injuries to spur research. Nowinski is now the executive director of the Sports Legacy Institute and and co-director of Boston University's Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy.
Nowinski shares his stories and concussion research around the country. In May, Nowinski spoke at Manchester University, and praised MU's work to prevent brain injuries for student-athletes.
Extended Interview: Chris Nowinski On Concussions
When former NFL star Dave Duerson committed suicide, he shot himself in the chest, so his brain could be preserved and studied by Nowinski's east coast institute.
That study determined repeated shots to the head from football triggered advanced brain disease in Duerson, Nowinski says, causing his life to fall apart.
"The reality is there's no real way to end a sport," Nowinski says. "The question we need to ask ourselves is, especially for a sport like football that involves hundreds of blows to the head for every participant, at what age should we allow that?"
Retired neurosurgeon Dr. Hank Feuer serves as a consultant for the Indianapolis Colts, and is on the NFL Head, Neck and Spine Medical Committee.
"We can figure out what shouldn't be done. Does it mean eliminating certain plays, does it mean not letting kids play tackle football, until they're a certain age, those are things that we're in the middle of learning right now," Feuer said.
With the popularity of football, it’s hard to imagine the backlash if certain voices push to have football banned.
But it will be interesting to see where this debate heads, as experts like Chris Nowinski dig deeper into the effects of concussions.
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