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There is growing evidence that playing contact sports can cause long-term brain injury

TechScienceThere is growing evidence that playing contact sports can cause long-term brain injury

Mnelson mandela eating There must be a high point in one’s life. But former Welsh rugby player Alix Popham, who once met the legendary South African president before a match, has no recollection of the encounter. Later that day during the game, he was hit on the head so hard that he received a severe strokean injury in which his brain was tossed around inside his skull.

concussion Can show someone stars or blur their speech. They could also be knocked unconscious, as was the case with Mr. Popham, and robbed of what had become cherished memories. But Mr Popham (pictured above, in red and bumping into an opponent’s arm) believes the thousands of repeated knocks to his head during his rugby career have robbed him of far more. He now gets lost easily, hates background noise and, in a fit of rage, once ripped through a railing in his home. He is 43 years old and has early-onset dementia.

Mr. Popham is not alone. Last year, Rylands Garth, a British law firm, launched court proceedings against World Rugby, rugby union’s world governing body, and the national governing bodies of the sport in England and Wales, on behalf of 225 former professional players with neurological disorders. This is just one claim out of many in Europe. Otherwise-healthy players in their 30s and 40s suffer from a number of conditions including motor-neuron disease, early-onset dementia, Parkinson’s disease and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (sites, There are concerns that these injuries were obtained through playing contact sports through a professional career, and that sports officials did not take the right actions to prevent them.

The outcome of these legal claims, and any changes to how contact sports may be played in the future, depend on emerging scientific evidence that aims to link historical injuries to the head with the various neurological conditions currently afflicting players. . National Football League (US)NFL) and the National Hockey League settled similar legal cases in 2013 and 2018, respectively.

many years before the dam breaks

An early focus of concern was evidence that some players, in some players, were causing concern sites, This degenerative brain disease causes memory loss, confusion and problems with impulse control, among a range of other symptoms. worry about a concussion, which is a mild form of traumatic brain injury (TBI), has since spread to sports including ice hockey, boxing and football.

TBIs are accepted as being at an increased risk of developing dementia—in 2020, the Lancet Commission on dementia, convened by academics to recommend ways to tackle rise in neurodegenerative conditions, added TBIfor a list of their motivating factors. In addition, there is compelling experimental work in rats that shows that blows to the head, even if they do not result in the classic signs of trauma, may be the first step towards brain injuries and sites, In 2019 an ongoing study of almost 8,000 former professional footballers in Scotland reported that their rate of death from neurodegenerative diseases was three and a half times higher than expected. The same study in 2021 found that footballers’ overall risk of developing brain problems was related to position on the field (defenders were the most vulnerable) and the length of their careers. Those involved in the study say these findings, along with more post-mortem work, suggest that head injuries in footballers are an important risk factor for neurodegenerative disease.

A new study published this month in brain communication Finds age of first exposure to American football, and years played, were both associated with less white matter in the brain and impulsive behavior. White matter is the neurological wiring that connects neurons within the brain. All this points to a “dose-response” relationship. In other words, more blows to the head increase the risk of long-term damage.

a separate study in 2022 brain communication looked at the brains of 44 active elite rugby players (including three women) and compared these to control groups playing a non-confrontational sport and completely outdoors. In addition, brain scans of some of the players were taken at intervals of one year. The researchers found that regardless of whether or not the players had a recent head injury, ten of them had abnormalities in their white matter that indicated disrupted nerve fibers. There were also small tears in blood vessels, which caused bleeding in three rugby players. Half of the players who had a brain scan found a decrease in brain volume within a year.

Importantly, the problems were also seen in players who did not exhibit any of the classic symptoms of a concussion. However, while the study’s findings were alarming, a short-term study such as this has not been able to prove that these players would be at greater risk of neurological difficulties later in life. For that, long-term imaging studies would be needed.

dark foreboding

How TBIThis can contribute to long-term neurological conditions such as dementia being less pronounced. Neil Graham, a neurologist at Imperial College London, says one theory is that a TBI Can trigger a neurodegenerative process that spreads over time. This idea is supported by work in animals that shows injury to axons – the long thread-like parts of neurons that connect different cells and transmit electrical signals – can produce abnormal forms of brain proteins such as tau and amyloid. These can collide with each other and spread to the brain. Such abnormal protein clumps are one of the proposed causes of Alzheimer’s disease.

Dr Graham also says better technology is needed to understand what is happening to players during games. It can be confusing to watch how someone behaves on the pitch after a head injury. “We need to move toward using biomarkers such as ultrasensitive blood tests so that we can get objective data,” he says. Research into blood and saliva tests suggests that these can offer clues to what’s going on inside the brain by looking for molecular biomarkers – including tau, glial fibrillary acidic protein and ubiquitin C-terminal hydrolase L1 – that can be detected within an hour. There is a spike in the blood inside. Injury. Recently, in the US the acceptance of blood tests for mild TBI Shows that it will soon be possible to objectively identify and measure this type of injury, perhaps even on the pitch-side. Sports governing bodies have not typically used such techniques in the past, but that may change. World Rugby is testing mouthguards fitted with an accelerometer, which can measure the force exerted on players during play.

Although the science is becoming clearer, it will remain difficult to prove causation for individual players with dementia or related problems. They need to show that, on a balance of probabilities, Jack Anderson, professor of sports law at the University of Melbourne, explains that what happened decades ago is the cause of today’s problems. This would be difficult, not least because the relevant medical records may not have survived. Most players’ case will depend on advances in medical imaging, along with epidemiological evidence that aims to link brain injuries and their probable cause.

you scream but no one is there to hear

In 2021, following the announcement of the lawsuit against it, World Rugby published a six-point plan to improve player welfare. The organization is also conducting its own research into head impacts, reviewing existing laws and maintaining its policy believing that there is a link between repeated head impacts and sites, But progress has been slow. There are regular examples of sportsmen and women who take brutal blows to the head on the pitch, yet continue to play. World Rugby says such incidents are reviewed and that team doctors who are found to have erred in their judgment can be sent for further training or even disciplinary action. Official recommendations state that, during training, players should only have 15 minutes of contact time per week, ie where they can hit at full speed, as they might in a game. But that guidance does little to keep clubs and players hungry for competition Edge.

James Drake, president of the Drake Foundation, a non-profit that funds research into the long-term health effects of a career in sports, also pointed to evidence that the sport was probably safer in rugby’s amateur era. As it has become more professional, the players have become older. In the past, players had to be quick and agile; Now this is a collision game. In football, where English players have made their own rugby-style negligence claims, the Professional Footballers’ Association has created a “brain-health department” to help lobby for stronger concussion protocols and help former players with dementia can be taken care of. They are also attempting to raise awareness among current and future players about the potential dangers of going over the top of the ball.

To widen the evidence base, former athletes across multiple sports are donating their brains for medical research. Boston University’s “brain bank” holds over 700 brains sites, mostly related to former athletes (see image). By February, 345 of 376 brains NFL players studied in the brain bank were diagnosed with sites, The figures contrast sharply with very low rates of sites found in the brains of non-athletes, although brain-bank samples are subject to selection bias.

playing different tunes

rugby suits, as NFL Cases from a decade ago, perhaps, will end in a settlement. A recent ruling in Los Angeles showed how difficult these cases can be to prove—a jury there rejected a $55 million lawsuit by the widow of a former American football player who alleged that her husband had sexually assaulted her. He suffered 6,000 hits during his career, which caused him permanent brain damage and resulted in his death at the age of 49.

For the claimants, their case is about much more than compensation. Mr Popham says that, if a settlement is offered, he will only do so if new rules are put in place to make rugby safer to play. “I look at rugby with different eyes now than I know,” he says. The evidence so far cannot be conclusive. But one way or another, Mr Popham and his mates are determined to make rugby a very different sport.

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