PCS a big concern for all athletes
Imagine becoming a completely different person practically overnight; one that can’t reason whether you’re awake or asleep, and one that when you are awake, is riddled with migraines, anxiety, and a mental haze that alters your memory and processes. Your personality, the very foundation of who you think you are, feels as if it is being erased. Now imagine that this was brought on by something that we in the south—especially Baton Rouge—adore: football.
For 18-year-old high school senior, Tanner Treadwell, the above hypotheticals are reality. In his junior year, his world was altered as he developed post-concussion syndrome or PCS after sustaining a concussion.
On Friday, September 15, 2017, Treadwell was in his prime; he’d paid his dues, committed the plays to memory, learned the proper way to tackle, knew not to jump off sides. Monday afternoon, September 18, 2017, during a routine practice, he ran the same plays; only this time he took a hit that changed everything.
According to the Concussion Legacy Foundation, post-concussion syndrome is “the persistence of concussion symptoms beyond the normal course of recovery,” with symptoms usually subsiding in about two months; however, 15–30% of people with PCS have not recovered by a year after the injury. Treadwell remembers recognizing the immediate change in his mental state, but being unable to express these changes to friends and family, he says, and when he did express them, he was met with minimization that caused him to retreat into himself.
“Because I was diagnosed with a concussion [not yet PCS], many people would tell me to essentially suck it up and rest while I waited to feel better, but I knew something was wrong,” Treadwell says.
It wasn’t until October 17, 2017, that Treadwell was finally diagnosed with PCS, but this did not alleviate the pressures he was feeling from coaches, friends and family as they constantly questioned why he was not back on the field.
“Having people, your closest friends and teammates, not believe you when you say you’re still hurting makes you feel so alone. After so long, some days the only reason you get out of bed is for your friends and family and to have them question you makes you wonder if living like this is even worth it,” Treadwell says.
“With football, of course you always worry about the worst-case scenario, but PCS has become our worst-case scenario,” Treadwell’s mother, Cindy comments. She describes PCS as a thief that steals your memories and your life, and what she found most difficult as a mother was the lack of knowledge on PCS.
Of course, we all know the risks involved with contact sports, especially football, but seems we’ve almost made it easy to overlook the possible injuries one of America’s favorite past-times, especially those that are not visible to the human eye.
According to the CDC, in 2017, an estimated 2.5 million high school students reported having at least one concussion related to sports or physical activity during the year preceding the Youth Risk Behavior Survey, and an estimated 1.0 million students reported having two or more concussions during the same time frame. Additionally, the findings suggest that students who played on a sports team had a significantly higher risk for one or more concussions than did students who did not play on a team.
While there are many ways to sustain a concussion, a neurorehabilitation clinic based in Provo, Utah that works to repair brain trauma, Cognitive FX, finds that about 50% of the concussions they see are sports related, split near equally between males and females, with about 70% of the males sustaining the injury from football.
It is difficult to determine why some people develop PCS and others do not; however, in their research Cognitive FX has cited from several sources what seems to be the most accurate numbers: 33% of concussion patients will have persistent symptoms and 30% of those meet the criteria for PCS nearly 6 months after their injury.
So why haven’t we heard about the dangers of PCS before? While increasing numbers of NFL players are speaking to the brain trauma they’ve experienced, such as former LSU player Craig Stelz, Cognitive FX co-founder Dr. Mark Allen finds that there is a lack of information because there is a bias from the medical community.
The debate that PCS is more psychological than physical is due largely in part to the fact that a brain MRI will read as normal unless it undergoes a functional MRI scan, he says. For a while, no one wanted to deal with it, but as doctors and clinics catch up with an ever-growing community of sufferers, Allen hopes the bias will eventually fade.
While this article is not meant to shame those who play, watch, and love football, it is a call for awareness in a region of the country that loves the game. The Treadwell’s hope that from Tanner’s struggle, parents will be more informed and up-front with their athletes before participation in contact sports, and make a promise to loved ones to listen when they say that something is wrong.
Photos by Sean Gasser