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Dangers facing young athletes and head injuries

Posted at 7:24 PM, Jul 06, 2022

SOUTHERN COLORADO — Medical experts and sports professionals are weighing in on the dangers of head injuries in young athletes. This comes as doctors diagnosed former Broncos player Demaryius Thomas on Tuesday morning with stage two CTE after his death in December, according to the New York Times.

Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) is a degenerative brain disease caused by repetitive blows to the head. Athletes who play contact sports such as football or ice hockey are at a higher risk of developing the disease. Severity can differ between patients, including everything from mood swings, headaches, to more severe symptoms like depression and manic anger issues.

Paul Browning, former wide receiver for the Cleveland Browns and graduate of Colorado State University-Pueblo, said that even though he's never had a diagnosed concussion during his career, safety concerns about head injuries lived in the back of his mind. Now as a coach for younger athletes, specifically at the Pro Football Camp in Colorado Springs, he says game safety is important to address on the field before it's too late.

"When you have these non-contact camps, obviously, emphasizing the non-contact, but also being able to teach people how to play football and teach them how to move how to hit. You know, those are the things that can really help prevent a lot of the brain injuries that you see in the game," Browning said.

He said safety measures like soft-shell helmets and changing rules are important to change the course for young athletes.

"They all play a part in making sure that, you know, you can play football for the longest amount of time and you can enjoy it without having to deal with some of the injuries that come with it," he said.

Dr. Lorne "Mac" MacDonald, a physical therapist and sports medicine specialist in Colorado Springs, said he treats athletes from the third degree up to the Olympic level. He said the prevalence of head injuries in sports, like football, is outstanding, and younger athletes feel the effects on a greater scale.

"The heads not developed, the brains not developed, the neck muscles aren't developed enough," he said.

Dr. MacDonald agrees that changing sports safety measures can help with the issue, but that more awareness and research on CTE is key to significant change.

"There's more that we don't know than what we do know, other than it [CTE] does exist. We know that you know, that if you get a concussion, you're more susceptible to a second concussion. We know that young brains, for example, are more susceptible," he said.

One of the barriers to treating CTE is that it's only detectable in an autopsy after death. Dr. MacDonald said that despite continuous research, there is still no test available to detect CTE. He said right now, awareness of the issue is the most important and that athletes can help themselves out by getting tested for concussions after any hit to the head.

"We do a quick neurological screening and make a determination on whether they can go back to play," he said. "There's tons of things we're trying to do to at least detect it, you know, concussions."
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