In a football game on September 25, quarterback Tua Tagovailoa of the Miami Dolphins completed a pass but was brought down. Fans saw him shake his head and fall to the ground as he attempted to jog off his illness. After a medical examination, he returned to the game against the Buffalo Bills with a back issue, according to his coach.
Four days later, Tagovailoa, 24, was struck again during a game against the Cincinnati Bengals. This time, he departed the field on a stretcher with a concussion, which was subsequently diagnosed.
Many observers believe that Tagovailoa had a concussion, commonly known as a mild traumatic brain injury, as a result of the first blow, given his continued head-shaking and unsteadiness. If these symptoms were indicative of a head injury, the first blow may have set him up for a more severe brain damage only days later.
According to Kristen Dams-O’Connor, neuropsychologist and head of the Brain Injury Research Center at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City, a person who is still recuperating from a concussion is at an increased risk for experiencing another concussion. For instance, researchers found in the British Medical Journal in 2013 that a concussion almost quadrupled the risk of a second one among young Swedish males.
“I believe this might have been avoided,” Dams-O’Connor said of Tagovailoa’s head damage during the Bengals game.
When the soft brain collides with the rigid skull after a head injury, a cascade of alterations ensues. Certain nerve cells become hyperactive, inflammation develops, and the blood flow is disrupted. These downstream brain activities — and how they connect to concussion symptoms — might occur over hours or days and are difficult to quantify immediately, Dams-O’Connor explains.
This makes it difficult to diagnose a concussion. Clinicians often depend on patients’ reports that they feel ill or foggy. Professional athletes may be reluctant to discuss these symptoms if it means being sidelined. “These are professional athletes who have been trained to endure discomfort,” Dams-O’Connor explains.
Recovery after a traumatic brain injury is essential. Daniel Daneshvar, a brain injury medicine specialist and neuroscientist at Mass General Brigham in Boston and Harvard Medical School, explains, “It’s considerably worse when a person isn’t given the right time to rest and recuperate and has a second blow within a short time frame.” Researchers examining the brains of mice subjected to two close-together blows saw indicators of greater damage and a slower recovery.
This risk for sportsmen stems in part from concussion symptoms itself. Slower response times, vertigo, and double vision hinder a quarterback’s ability to avoid tackles and spot opponents approaching from the side. These symptoms may cause further head and body injuries. According to a new review of National Football League athletes published in August in Arthroscopy, Sports Medicine, and Rehabilitation, concussions increase the likelihood of lower extremity injuries.
Moreover, a recovering brain is more vulnerable to jolts. In the weeks after an accident, while the brain is still recuperating, “your threshold for sustaining a concussion is lower,” explains Daneshvar. Researchers believe that a lighter blow might cause greater harm. A uncommon illness known as second impact syndrome is a severe consequence of several brain traumas. This catastrophic, sometimes deadly brain swelling occurs when a brain that is still recovering is struck again.
Not what occurred with Tagovailoa. However, Dams-O’Connor warns that two concussions in a short period of time might impede recovery. I believe that people underestimate how life-altering something can be.
The NFL and NFLPA said in a joint statement that they are reviewing whether their concussion procedures were followed in this instance. Tagovailoa may have been permitted to return to that first game because, whether accurately or not, his stumbling was ascribed to a back ailment and not a brain lesion. The NFL and NFLPA are exploring a protocol change that would exclude a player from participating in a game for any noticeable motor instability, regardless of the reason.
Tagovailoa is now progressing through the rehabilitation phases described in the concussion protocol. In a September 30 social media message, Tagovailoa thanked his team, friends, and family, as well as everyone who has shown support. He stated, “I’m feeling considerably better and am concentrating on my recovery so I can rejoin my teammates on the field.”