A basketball player for the Dutch national team suffered a concussion and could barely go out for months as he could not stand the light and sound. A professional soccer player from ADO Den Haag who had a ball on her head continued playing and damaging her brain to the point where she couldn’t lead a normal life for years. The former Ajax and Arizona goalkeeper who had multiple concussions and years later still has headaches every day.
Seven former (senior) athletes responded last Saturday NRC About the brain injuries they have suffered and the consequences for their lives. Team doctors and club coaches sometimes had no idea what to do with them, although there were clear protocols and guidelines outlining how to deal with a concussion.
Athletes are often brought back into the field very quickly after suffering a concussion. From Investigation Where 23,000 football injuries were analyzed – including the UEFA medical chief and the PSV Eindhoven doctor – it became clear last year that at least half of the players had returned to the field early.
Neuropsychologist Eric Matzer, who worked for English football club Chelsea and now has his own clinic, and neurologist Arthur Boone of St. Anna’s Hospital in Geldrop specializes in sports injuries. They believe that in the world of sports little attention is paid to the risk of concussions. That’s why they started an independent partnership to diagnose and treat athletes with brain damage.
“Brain injuries are treatable, but they have to be there on time. By sending athletes who haven’t recovered enough to the field, you play with their health. The brain can be damaged beyond repair,” says Matzer.
What do you do differently from sports associations or team doctors?
MATR: ‘The best sport can be a dangerous environment. There is always a desire to keep playing, whether among the athletes themselves or between the coaches and the team doctors. If a doctor is sidelined by the ice hockey team every day, then at a certain point he no longer sees how hard the hits players have to deal with. Sports doctors often intervene too late. If the athlete continues to play and is hit on the head again, this can be dangerous. Then you get some sort of brain damage chain, and sometimes the damage can’t be reversed. We want athletes to come to us as soon as they suffer brain damage. We use brain scans and neuropsychological research to find out what damage is present and to ensure a calm and balanced rehabilitation. Ultimately, it prevents long-term brain damage. “
Boone: “Obviously we have to be more careful in a lot of sports. It doesn’t seem like this has reached the sports world yet.”
Matser said earlier NRC Former FIFA medical director, Czech neurologist Jerry Dvorak, impeded his research on brain injuries in the 1990s. Matser has already warned about the dangers of brain damage in sports. He argues that frequent blows to the head in sports such as head strikes in soccer and kneecaps can lead to chronic traumatic encephalopathy, as athletes can develop dementia at a relatively young age. The disease has now been discovered by American researchers in the brains of six hundred American football players.
From looking for NRC I recently found out that the major international sports federations – like FIFA, NFL and rugby federations – were ignoring the scientific evidence of this long-term damage. They refuse to admit that their sport plays a critical role in the long-term development of brain damage. In the UK, a number of former rugby players have filed a lawsuit against the rugby federations. They believe that the unions have ignored the risk of brain damage and that their health is at risk.
In contrast to long-term damage, sports federations see a risk of a concussion. There are protocols for team physicians and FIFA has recently introduced an additional substitution option for players with a head injury.
Matser: “Good procedures, but looking away from long-term brain damage cannot be seen in isolation. If a concussion is not treated properly, it may ultimately lead to persistent complaints at an early age. Combined concussions can lead to encephalopathy.” So you can’t say: we think concussion is dangerous, but sport has nothing to do with long-term damage. In our opinion, this is Framing From sports federations. When you say so, you are consciously trying to reduce the problem. I believe many sports associations have been guilty of abuse of power because of their position. They ensured that many of the athletes were not given the opportunity to recover properly. “
Boone: “I see a big difference between the world of sport and the world of business. Of course people sometimes get concussions or blows to the head. Twenty years ago, there was the same problem as in sport: the company’s doctors didn’t know much about brain injuries, and companies found it hard to take responsibility for them. And people fell between two chairs. As neurologists, we advocate for better treatments and more caution to avoid long-term consequences. Basically the same warning Eric gave in sports at the time. But the business community responded well. ”
What has changed at work?
Boone: “The company’s doctors are well trained now. People are immediately taken out of trading in companies and then slowly rebuilding their activity with the help of a neurologist. The company will also continue to pay during that time. That way we prevent brain damage from accumulating. Ultimately, we want to integrate these. Knowledge in sports as well. We don’t want to oppose sports. “
It does not want funding from sports federations. Isn’t that just ripping off?
MATR: ‘We want to start with neutrality. Sports federations have been able to look away, which is not a good foundation. But we would like to speak to doctors from all sports disciplines to look at the problem from all sides. The unions have to restore confidence. “
Athletes would ultimately benefit the most if they could undergo this type of treatment on their own teams, right? KNVB also has its own brain clinic.
Matser: “After all the disclosures, it is extremely important to rule out all conflicts of interest. We see that players are still being sent to the field very quickly. It would be great, for example, for the Health Council, as a government advisor, to establish independent ground rules on brain trauma.” In sport and its risks. Meanwhile, we want to protect the athletes immediately by starting their own treatment clinic. This is just care that insurance companies pay. “
Bonn: ‘There has already been a change in some sports. Kickboxers, for example, come to me to check their brains, because the union requires them to do so regularly. Then we may see small scars in the brain, and sometimes they are not bothered at all. It provides the possibility to organize training sessions differently and to ensure that these scars are not exacerbated. We are keeping the problem under control. In this way, all parties can benefit. “
A copy of this article also appeared on nrc.next on February 16, 2021