Concussions' long-term effects lead to NFL early retirement for some players

2015-03-19 10:46:34 by Dr. Joe Congeni - Director of Sports Medicine, as posted on the blog.

At age 24, not even yet in his prime as an NFL player, Chris Borland told his team he was retiring because he was worried about the long-term effects of head trauma. At age 24, not even yet in his prime as an NFL player, Chris Borland told his team he was retiring because he was worried about the long-term effects of head trauma.

A seemingly growing phenomenon in the NFL is players' decision to retire early due to the long-term implications of head injuries. Just in the last month, we heard Chris Borland, Jake Locker and Cortland Finnegan all call it quits from their football career.

Players are saying the pressure to mask injuries to get back on the field and the accumulation of sub-concussive blows are putting their health at risk.

The NFL's response points to its increased attention on safety with recent reports showing a 25 percent reduction in concussions in the league this year. But because of the reporting's subjective nature, a lot of players aren't putting a ton of stock in it and are making their health top priority.

Yesterday, I talked with WAKR morning show host Ray Horner about this topic. We also discussed the highly anticipated Medical Match coming up this Friday.

Below is an audio file and transcript of our discussion.

HORNER: On board with us -- Wednesdays he takes time out of his schedule to join us -- is Dr. Joe Congeni from Sports Medicine Center at Akron Children's Hospital.

Joe, first of all, I was talking a few minutes ago about this early retirement in the NFL by Chris Borland (San Francisco 49ers linebacker). We saw some players just last week, as well, Jake Locker, Cortland Finnegan (both former Tennessee Titans' players) also call it a career at an early age.

And, I mentioned this might be a growing trend. Guys with all the information out there -- Joe, I know you being a big advocate of this -- looking at things a little bit differently than they did 20 years ago.

DR. CONGENI: Yeah, you know, I mean, the NFL's answer to that, they came back and said well, you know, there was a 25 percent reduction in concussions this year, according to the studies, and a lesser reduction the last couple years, but headed in the right direction.

Dr. Joe Congeni Dr. Joe Congeni

But, I think a lot of people who watch closely are still saying this is a real tough problem for this sport the long-term implications of this. And, the 2 things that I hear the most from players is:


  • No. 1, how early on you can mask symptoms or not report symptoms because you need to continue to play.

  • And No. 2, maybe what I'm hearing even more in the last couple years is this issue of the accumulation of what are called sub-concussive blows.


That means hits to the head that kinda come cumulatively over time. Maybe all of them don't add up to specifically somebody staggering off the field or getting knocked out with loss of consciousness or having significant problems with, um, memory loss and balance and other things, but in the long run, the concern of what's gonna be leading down the road .

Those are called the accumulation of kinda sub-concussive blows, and the fact that the reporting has such a subjective nature to it, a lot of people aren't putting a ton of stock in that 25 percent.

HORNER: Yeah. So, there you go. A lot of the young guys calling it ... and I think it's really going to change the way 1) How teams manage their teams in the future and 2) I think you're gonna see these guys using their professional football career as part of their professional career, not entirely their professional career.

But, you also wanted to bring something else up this morning, Joe?

DR. CONGENI: Yeah, I wanted to talk about, speaking about careers, is there's a phenomenon called The Medical Match that takes place Friday. It's a little outside of sports medicine, although we have a match for sports medicine.

But, at places like Children's and Summa and at medical schools like NEOMED (Northeast Ohio Medical University), the way we go on to the next step -- it's kinda analogous to draft day in, uh, football or national signing day -- in medicine is every senior medical student in the country interviews and then makes a rank list and the programs like Children's and Summa make a rank list. , the computer matches up where the senior medical students will go.

So, a lot of our old athletes from 4 or 5, 6 years ago that you and I know, really bright kids, the best and brightest, are out there waiting until Friday at noon to find out.

So, my son who's down at OSU med school will find out in the next 3 to 5 years where he'll be spending that time when the computer matches up every senior med student in the country with a residency program somewhere around the country.

It's really kind of a cool day in medicine, and it's called The Medical Match.

HORNER: Alright, sounds good, Dr. Joe. Thanks for taking time with us again, always appreciate your time.

DR. CONGENI: Have a great week, Ray. Thanks.

HORNER: You too. Dr. Joe Congeni, Sports Medicine Center at Akron Children's Hospital.

Originally aired on 1590 WAKR-AM on March 18, 2015


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