top of page

Football & Concussions: Is It Really That Bad?

The short answer is, yes, it's that bad. Recent imaging technology has opened up new possibilities for researching and investigating "normal" brains and injured brains, but there is still so much that is unknown. Even with all that unknown, all signs point to contact sports like football, hockey and soccer being detrimental to the health and well-being of the brain.

Football and concussion

What is a Concussion?

A concussion is an injury to the brain causing a disruption in how brain cells function and communicate with each other. Common mechanisms of injury include car accidents, sports, assault, falls, or anything else that causes a blow or a jolt to the head or neck. Common symptoms include fatigue, brain fog, memory difficulty, sleep disturbances, visual changes, tinnitus, changes in mood, and cognitive impairments. Symptoms can last for hours, days, months, or even years.

Interesting fact: You do not need to hit your head to sustain a concussion. A whiplash injury can create enough force to cause the brain to move inside the skull to cause a concussion.

Flag Football vs. Contact Football in Youth Sports

Concussions are caused by actions that are inherent to contact football: impact to the head, neck, or body. It is no surprise that the risk of concussion goes down greatly when the game is changed from contact to flag football, but there is still risk!

From the CDC Guidelines:

  • Youth tackle football athletes experienced a median of 378 head impacts per athlete during the season.

  • Flag football athletes experienced a median of 8 eight head impacts per athlete during the season.

It's important to note that all head impacts do not equate to a concussion. But the more head impacts are directly related to increased risk of sustaining a concussion.

Interesting fact: All concussions, even "mild" ones, are considered a traumatic brain injury (TBI) as a medical diagnosis. Concussions are considered mild TBIs when there is no loss of consciousness. Moderate and severe TBIs involve more serious neurological symptoms like prolonged change in consciousness and awareness or even a coma.

Tua Tagovaila

The Miami Dolphins quarterback has been in and out of the game all season due to a serious of concussions. He recently "cleared concussion protocol" again and all signs point to him playing next season. But should he?

In week 4 of the NFL season Tua obviously suffered a concussion and displayed loss of consciousness and a neurological response of fencing, a normal reflex that occurs in infants, but an abnormal response in adults. Somehow, he was cleared to play a few weeks later, and he suffered another concussion against the Packers. There is near endless research on how a concussion effects proprioception, neck strength, balance, and other sensorimotor systems; changes to these systems following a concussion may impact the ability for an individual to avoid situations where another concussion is likely (i.e. avoiding a tackle or a collision) and increase the likelihood of sustaining another injury.

Additionally, sustaining multiple concussions in a short period of time (i.e. less than 6 months) can greatly interfere with healing at the cellular level thus creating the possibility to prolonged symptoms. Read more at CognitiveFx.

So should Tua play next year? The research very obviously points to "No". But millions of dollars and fame may outweigh the research for him.

Interesting consideration: Recent headlines are quick to point out that it took him 38 days to clear protocol this last go around. That's probably how long it should have taken him to clear concussion protocol after the first concussion if there was more consideration for the health and recovery of his brain.

Interesting fact: For some people, sustaining even one concussion can cause a lifetime of symptoms (called Post Concussion Syndrome). Research suggests age and gender may play a role in concussion outcomes. Read more here.

online concussion and vestibular physical therapy healing

My personal relationship with football has changed over the last 7-8 years, which coincides with my vestibular and concussion certifications. As an Ohio State fan, my Saturdays have revolved almost completely around college football since I was 18. This year I watched 2 full football games, Ohio State vs. Georgia in the CFP playoff and the Buffalo Bills vs. Bengals in the playoffs. I love the community of Buckeye Nation and the Bills Mafia, but I can barely watch the game as I find myself cringing and looking away frequently. Both college football and NFL rules have changed around concussion, but they can still do better.

Have a concussion or other vestibular ailments? Schedule an appointment here.

Dr Jessica Klain PT, DPT, COMT, CSCS, OCS, CNPT

Board Certified Orthopedic Clinical Specialist (OCS)

Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS)

Certified Orthopedic Manual Therapist (COMT)

Certified Nutritional Physical Therapist (CNPT)

Certified Vestibular Specialist

Certified Concussion Specialist

Trigger Point Dry Needling Certified, Level 1&2

Certified Yoga Teacher

University of Florida, Doctorate in Physical Therapy (2009)

The Ohio State University, Bachelor of Science in Biology (2006)

Call/text: 720-295-0060


bottom of page