Centerpoint Medical Center
August 31, 2017

By Michael Smith, The Examiner

In any sport, there is a risk of injury.

But one in particular has received a massive amount of attention from the media and people around the U.S – concussions, especially in football.

There was a recent study that showed 110 out of 111 deceased NFL players who donated their brains for research showed they had signs of CTE, according to an updated study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association on July 25.

According to, the heightened awareness of concussions is one reason youth tackle football league participation across the nation has been declining since 2009. In April 2016, ESPN reported that 3.96 million children ages 6-17 participated in tackle football in 2009. In 2015, that number dropped to 3.21 million.

So, what effect has increased awareness had on participation in youth football in Eastern Jackson County? Not much, if you ask Heart of America Pop Warner president Terry Bowen.

He said about 1,100 children are participating in a league that says it’s “the largest and oldest Pop Warner league in Missouri,” and that number has remained steady for the past couple of years.

Being cautious is key to protecting a child from a possible permanent brain injury.

In addition to the risk of getting CTE from a concussion, there is also another concern associated with head injuries called second-impact syndrome. It’s a rare condition in which a second concussion occurs before the first one properly heals. Second-impact syndrome can cause brain swelling and sometimes can be fatal.

That’s why making sure a player is removed from the game after showing symptoms and is kept off the field until the injury is completely healed is critical. Dr. Lori Boyajian-O’Neill, a sports and and family medicine physician at Centerpoint Medical Center who has worked with patients with concussions, said athletes who play sports at high school age or younger are more prone to concussions than a college or professional athlete.

She said athletes who play any sport must be symptom free for several days before it’s safe to return and said the minimum amount of time a player should sit out following a concussion is four weeks. Sometimes, that can be several months.

Boyajian-O’Neill added that the key to making sure that a concussion is fully healed is to have the athlete exercise aside from what they would do in practice. If that athlete is still symptom free even after a certain amount of physical exertion, they can return to play their respective sport.

“If they have no symptoms at rest and have no symptoms after five to seven days of exertion, they can safely return to their sports,” she said. ”(Concussions) can last a couple of months, four months, six months, a year,” Boyajian-O’Neill said. “If they have had the symptoms for two to three months, I would have them exercise longer than five days. It just depends on the case. It also depends on what treatments and medicines they’ve had to have.

“If they come to me and say, ‘I feel great. I haven’t had any symptoms for a week,’ I am not going to say, ‘Great, go back out there and play.’ If they have 12 weeks of symptoms, that’s different. We have them run and jump and physically exert themselves over a five-stage period. Every day you can do a different stage. We have to see if they can be symptom free after physical exertion. If they start to feel symptoms again, we have them take a day or two off and resume the stage they are on.”

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