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NFL Health Update: Concussions being monitored during Olympics



As athletes from around the country gather for the Sochi Olympics, special attention is being paid to concussions. According to a recent USA Today story, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) is closely monitoring the health of Olympics athletes regarding head injuries. The "protection of athletes' health is a key priority," as IOC spokesperson Emmanuelle Moreau wrote in an email to USA Today. "Over the last years, our Medical Commission, together with leading experts, has collected and reviewed scientific evidence on relevant topics, including concussion."

Moreau also noted to USA Today that "international sports federations are responsible for running their sport at the Games, and each federation has different rules."

In addition, the U.S. hockey and ski teams will have Dr. Jeffrey Kutcher, a concussion specialist present at some of their events, according to an AP story.

In an interview with The Associated Press, U.S. ski team medical director Kyle Wilkens explained why they took the step of inviting a concussion specialist, saying: "It's such a hot topic. We're trying to do the right thing with concussion, and that's why he's on board."

IOC medical director Dr. Richard Budgett also weighed in on the decision, telling the AP, "I haven't heard of any other country sending a specialist such as a neurologist. But it's good that they've got a specialist coming out because there's a lot of interest in monitoring concussions. The Olympics are like a fish bowl -- with everybody watching -- so it's great that he will be able to raise awareness and show that we're taking the health of our athletes seriously."


Government and military scientists have been working with the NFL for the past three years on the creation of helmet sensors that aid in detection and treatment of traumatic brain injury (TBI). The sensors, which weigh approximately two ounces, are placed in troop's helmets, torsos and vehicles allowing scientist to study blast information and determine a patients risk for TBI. Researchers hope the device will not only improve detection and treatment, but also lead to the development of better protective equipment in the future.

While the playing field and battle field have many differences, the collaboration makes sense, according to U.S. Army Lt. Col. Frank Lozano, product manager for soldier protective equipment at the Army's Program Executive Office.

"This ongoing collaboration has allowed both communities to better understand the best ideas, processes and technologies for the increased detection of TBI," said Lozano.

The device works by providing an indication once a blast is registered. The indication displays either a green, yellow or amber light, meaning no exposure, moderate exposure or serious exposure. While a sensor reading on its own is not a diagnosis, it can tell doctors the amount of force a service member experienced, as opposed to relying on troops to describe what happened.

The benefits of these sensors are evident at Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan, at the Concussion Specialty Care Center where troops are sent for TBI treatment and rehabilitation before being sent back to duty. With a better understanding of TBI treatment, 95 percent of troops who suffer TBI downrange are able to return to duty without the need for evacuation.

Sensors are helping doctors and researchers with understanding TBI and its effects, but there is still a long way to go said Stephanie Maxfield Panker, Surgeon General of the Army's TBI Director.

"We still have a gap in terms of having more objective data about blast pressures and accelerations folks are experiencing out there," Panker said. "There's lots we don't know about blast effects on the human brain and body and I think this is where [sensors] come into play."

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-- NFL Communications

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