‘Paid to Give Concussions’

“Football is not a contact sport, it’s a collision sport – dancing is a contact sport.”

Packer Coach Vince Lombardi

The soon-to-be released movie, Concussion, stars actor Will Smith as Dr. Bennet Omalu, the pathologist who discovered chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) and became embroiled in a drawn-out battle with the NFL. This is a movie every football player on any level and every parent should watch to realize the inherent danger of this collision sport.

A review in Sports Illustrated, “Paid to Give Concussions” is shocking to read, but not uncommon for anyone familiar with the rite of male masculinity called American tackle football. Every time I see a cheap shot I cringe knowing the damage it can do.
In fact, it was a football injury while playing at Cal that led me to my first chiropractor. I still live with those injuries today and if it weren’t for chiropractic care, I’d probably be disabled or addicted to prescription painkillers like many former players now are.
I was never paid to give concussions, but I did get a few during both my high school and collegiate careers. I recall in 1969, while playing in a game against OJ Simpson and his USC Trojans in the LA Coliseum, I was tackled by a 300-pound lineman who hit me helmet-to-helmet, evident by a USC crimson red strip of paint embedded across my blue Cal helmet.
I sustained a Grade 1 concussion: I wasn’t knocked out cold, but I didn’t know where I was, either. I wandered back to the huddle, the QB called my play, but I had no idea what to do, so I turned to my fullback standing behind me and asked him for help.
He saw my eyes and knew I had my “bell rung,” but instead of calling a time-out, he put his arm around my shoulders and pointed toward the hole and told me, “You get the ball and run over there.”
So, in front of 89,000 fans and national TV, I got the ball and ran “over there” instinctively, actually gaining a few yards before the coaches finally took me out of the game. It’s amazing what players will do giving it the “ol’ college try.”
I likened football today as the American version of Roman gladiators who sacrificed their bodies for the pleasure of spectators. And, just like gladiators, few football players live without bad backs, knees, shoulders, ankles, and now we see head trauma included on the list of lifelong injuries.

As singer Willie Nelson might say, “Momma, don’t let your son to grow up to be a football player,” good advice as far as I’m concerned.

Beyond the Spine: Cervical Trauma & Brain Disorders

Sport injuries, car accidents or even bicycle falls can also lead to major problems later in life such as brain disorders, neck, back, and chest pains, and a myriad of health problems stemming from spinal disorders. In fact, many DCs adjust more than only spinal and pelvic joints. On a daily basis, I may adjust hips, knees, ankles, TMJ, wrists, elbows, shoulders and, quite often, a few bad attitudes about health habits, too.

A 2015 study, “Beyond the Spine: A New Clinical Research Priority,” [1] discussed that chiropractors are involved with new areas of research such as mild traumatic brain injury (MTBI), work disability prevention, undifferentiated chest pain, hip osteoarthritis, and prevention of spine pain in children and adolescents, to name a few.

Perhaps the most exciting research I’ve seen lately is by chiropractor Scott Rosa, et al.[2] who found a correlation between Multiple Sclerosis (MS) and upper cervical misalignments that caused significant obstruction to cerebral spinal fluid (CSF) flow present in MS patients. All but one of eight MS patients were found to have a history of serious prior cervical trauma which resulted in significant cervical structural misalignment — the “vertebral subluxation” in chiropractic parlance.

Dr. Rosa, a chiropractor in upstate New York, found misaligned upper cervical vertebrae (specifically, the top 3 vertebrae in the neck known as atlas, axis, and C3) were causing blockage of the flow of cerebrospinal fluid into and out of the brain.

The FONAR UPRIGHT® MRI (rather than a recumbent MRI) showed in one case that the atlas vertebrae was rotated 5-6 degrees from its normal alignment. When the vertebrae were successfully realigned, the patient’s symptoms subsided. The realignment was achieved by Dr. Rosa using the noninvasive Atlas Orthogonal instrument, a device that can be used to adjust the vertebrae back into normal alignment.
Former Chicago Bear QB Jim McMahon is also involved in this study; he is also involved in two lawsuits against the NFL for head traumas and opioid painkiller abuse when players were given these narcotics like Halloween candy in order to keep playing.

In an Associated Press article, “Jim McMahon talks health struggles,” he spoke of his dementia, lawsuits, and his treatment:

Lately, he’s been getting relief from two doctors in New York. Through a machine they invented, they’re able to relieve the pain in his head through a nonsurgical [chiropractic] procedure that realigns his neck every few months.

Spinal fluid cooling in the brain brought on by a rotation in his vertebrae was causing the headaches. By realigning the neck, the fluid drains. In turn, the pain goes away for a few months, along with the short-term memory loss and moodiness.

The dementia, however, is an ongoing fight, one of several for a former quarterback going nose to nose with the league.

“The NFL continues to make billions and billions of dollars every year,” McMahon said. “And some of these guys are homeless. They don’t know who they are, and they were the ones who built this brand to where it’s at.”

Raymond V. Damadian, the co-inventor of MRI, and David Chu also noted similar effects in their 2011 paper, “The Possible Role of Cranio-Cervical Trauma and Abnormal CSF Hydrodynamics in the Genesis of Multiple Sclerosis”[3]:

“In conclusion, the results of our investigation suggest that Multiple Sclerosis may be biomechanical in origin wherein traumatic injuries to the cervical spine result in cervical pathologies that impede the normal circulation of CSF to and from the brain. The resulting obstruction of CSF outflow from the brain impairs the outflow of CSF from the lateral ventricles of the brain where 500 cc of cerebrospinal fluid is generated daily by the choroid plexuses. The obstruction to CSF outflow would result in an increase in ventricular CSF pressure (ICP) which in turn could result in “leakage” of cerebrospinal fluid and its content of more than 300 polypeptides and at least six (6) antigenic proteins (e.g., tau proteins) into surrounding brain parenchyma. The attachment of antigenic proteins to surrounding brain nerve fibers would stimulate the antigen-antibody reactions that produce the axon demyelination characteristic of MS.”

This is exciting news for the millions of people suffering from brain disorders to realize there may be a nondrug nonsurgical answer to their problems. Hopefully the research by Drs. Rosa, Damadian and Chu will continue and get recognition in the media.

Not Just Football

Now as a practicing chiropractor, I see the ravages of sport injuries ranging from football, hockey, rodeo, gymnastics, and even cheerleading, the second-most dangerous sport in high school.

Indeed, from my 35-year experience, I’ve found the majority of adult spinal problems actually began in their youth when they sustained the normal childhood accidents — falls on rollers skates, skateboards, and bicycles are perhaps the first forms of sport injuries most kids experience.

Few children escape the pain from these playground traumas, and since most of these musculoskeletal injuries are not immediately corrected by a chiropractor, they linger on for decades until as adults they may finally visit a chiropractor. Sadly, too many adults instead live on prescription pain pills for their chronic pains.

If you’re a former player of any sport or have children who currently are, I urge you to have them checked and adjusted now before these injuries impair their lives. Often these unresolved musculoskeletal problems become chronic pain issues that lead too many to opioid prescription painkillers or, even worse, to back surgeries that fail more often than help.

Today all 32 NFL teams have chiropractors on staff as do the Olympic teams. In fact, in 1996 at the Atlanta Olympic Games, I was honored to speak before The International Federation of Sport Chiropractic — nearly 400 men and women from around the world ready to help their Olympic athletes perform at their best.

Every high school and youth team should also use chiropractors, but most don’t. So if you and your kids are active or former players, I urge you to get checked by a good chiropractor with experience in sports injuries. It may save you and your kids the lifelong chronic pain that plagues too many people today.

[1] James Donovan, BSc, DC, J. David Cassidy, DC, PhD, DrMedSc, Carol Cancelliere, DC, MPH, Erik Poulsen, DC, PhD, Mette Jensen Stochkendahl, DC, PhD, Jørgen Kilsgaard, DC, MPH, Marc-André Blanchette, DC, MSc, and Jan Hartvigsen, DC, PhD, “Beyond the Spine: A New Clinical Research Priority,” J Can Chiropr Assoc. 2015 Mar; 59(1): 6–12.

PMCID: PMC4319449

[2] Freeman, M., Rosa, S., Harshfield, D., Smith, F., Bennett, R., Centeno, C., Kornel, E., Nystrom, A., Heffez, D., Kohles, S. (2010) Brain Injury, 24(7–8):988–994.

[3] Raymond V. Damadian and David Chu, The Possible Role of Cranio-Cervical Trauma and Abnormal CSF Hydrodynamics in the Genesis of Multiple Sclerosis, Physiol. Chem. Phys. & Med. NMR (20 September 2011) 41: 1–17