Contact Sports & Brain Injury: 6 Ways Nurses Can Be Part of the Solution

Brain injury in contact sports has been the subject of multiple recent research studies. What began as a few whispers after professional football players started showing signs of neurological abnormalities has erupted into a multimillion-dollar research effort.

It is now acknowledged that football and other contact sports, including ice hockey, cycling, baseball, basketball, and skateboarding, can lead to brain injury. And it is now also known that type of brain injury associated with contact sports can lead to depression1, suicide2, dementia3, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)4, and other neurological problems.

Challenges Associated with Brain Injury Rehabilitation

One societal problem with brain injury rehabilitation is the amount of rehab required and the associated treatment costs. It’s been estimated that treatment costs can range anywhere from $85,000 for a mild TBI to several million dollars for a severe injury5.

There are other associated costs as well, such as lost wages and travel. For those who cannot afford rehabilitation and supportive services, the future is likely to be filled with interpersonal, social, and behavioral issues. When children are injured, they may face dozens of years of trying to deal with the long-term effects of brain injury.

Creating Change

What can society do to change the picture and prognosis for those with brain injuries associated with sports? A wide-ranging approach is necessary that will need to involve plenty of discussion, ethical reviews, and perhaps even legislation.

As nurses, we can be intimately involved in the effort in our own communities. This might look like:

  1. Participating in implementing injury prevention interventions in sports
  2. Leading educational efforts on sports injury prevention for children, teens, and parents
  3. Advocating for appropriate legislation for sports injury prevention
  4. Advocating for appropriate societal and governmental support for long-term rehabilitation at the local, state, and national levels
  5. Joining in community conversations about the ethical issues associated with contact sports
  6. Reconsidering our own “fandom” associated with professional sports teams

Rehab nurses have intimate knowledge of how tragic severe head injury can be and how difficult the rehabilitation process is. But when we come together to help prevent sports-related brain injury, we are changing the story at multiple levels, from the athlete all the way up to society as a whole.

For more information about sports concussion policies and laws, visit the CDC Heads Up Program website. To learn more about caring for people with brain injuries, watch the MedBridge course Rehabilitation Nursing for Brain Injury.

  1. Guskiewicz, K. M., Marshall, S. W., Bailes, J., McCrea, M., Harding Jr., H. P., Matthews, A., Mihalik, J. R., & Cantu, R. C. (2007). Recurrent concussion and risk of depression in retired professional football players. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 39(6): 903-909.
  2. Omalu, B. I., Bailes, J., Hammers, J. L., & Fitzsimmons, R. P. (2010). Chronic traumatic encephalopathy, suicides and parasuicides in professional American athletes: the role of the forensic pathologist. The American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology, 31(2): 130-132.
  3. Guskiewicz, K. M., Marshall, S. W., Bailes, J., McCrea, M. M., Cantu, R. C., Randolph, C., & Jordan, B. D. (2005). Association between recurrent concussion and late-life cognitive impairment in retired professional football players. Neurosurgery, 57(4): 719-726.
  4. Gupta, R. & Sen, N. (2015). Traumatic brain injury: a risk factor for neurodegenerative diseases. Reviews in the Neurosciences, 27(1).
  5. Edmonds, C. (2015). The steep cost of brain injury recovery. Northwestern Now. Retrieved from