Most sports fans and parents now know that concussion, especially repeated concussion, can cause permanent brain damage. But did you know that head injury may cause even more serious long- term consequences? Yes, even more serious than permanent brain damage.

According to Neurology, the National journal of the American Academy of Neurology, National Football League (NFL) players may be at a higher risk of death from diseases that damage the brain cells including ALS. Anther studies conducted by theAmerican Journal of Epidemiology in 2007 supported a ten- time increase of ALS risk among soccer players with multiple head injuries compared to persons who never had a head injury. ALS is an incurable neurodegenerative disease that first appears as muscle weakness and eventually causes paralysis, loss of lung function and death. ALS is short for Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis also commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.

The study cited in Neurology, was conducted by Everett J. Lehman, M.S. in conjunction with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health in Cincinnati. The Lehman study was based on a pool of 3,500 former NFL players who played at last five seasons from 1959 to 1988. The results? NFL players are 3 times more likely than the general population to die from from brain cell diseases like ALS or Alzheimer’s. At the time of the study, 334 of the players evaluated already died.

Back to the original name of ALS: Lou Gehrig’s disease. Who was Lou Gehrig anyway? Lou Gehrig was a Yankee baseball legend from the 1930s who still holds the grand slam record. When Lou announced his retirement due to ALS in 1939 to teary eyed fans, he claimed to be the “luckiest man alive” asking fans not to feel sorry for his “bad break”. But Lou’s “bad break” may not have been plain bad luck. We may never know for sure, but Lou did suffer three or more major concussions requiring hospitalization.

According to Lucie Bruijn, Ph.D., Chief Scientist for the ALS Association the NFL study “… is another clue that brain injuries may be linked to the development of neurodegenerative diseases such as ALS. “ More studies with a greater number of participants will be needed to fully understand the issue. But, we now this is a crucial safety issue. For your safety and the safety of those you love, please:

  • Reducing exposure to head injury if possible;
  • Wear helmets when participating in collision prone sports; and
  • Immediately seek medical treatment aftera car crash where head injury is suspected