A weekend of carnage in the NFL intensified the growing attention football players, coaches, executives and officials have been paying to concussions.

The league levied hefty fines against defenders who delibrately injured ball carriers and receivers with helmet-to-helmet hits and announced rule and policy changes intended to protect all professional players from concussions. Such moves seemed inevitable after evidence surfaced last year that mild, traumatic and repetitive brain injuries were causing current and retired athletes to lose significant playing time, suffer later in life and die early from conditions such as chronic traumatic encephalopathy (i.e., “punch drunk syndrome”) and suicide.

Closer to home, the Virginia (VA) High School League, which oversees the rules and competition for teen sports in the commonwealth, required high school administrators and coaches to take concussion diagnosis, treatment and prevention more seriously. Since 2008, schools in Virginia Beach, Norfolk and Chesapeake have implemented systems to set baseline healthy mental function for young athletes and ensure full recovery from brain injuries before allowing a return to the playing field.

But that is all about athletes. What does any of this mean for the overwhelming majority of us who never or no longer participate in contact sports?


Traffic accidents, slips and falls represent the greatest concussion risks for most people. But any brain injury suffered while playing sports, no matter how mild, significantly increases your risk for subsequent concussions. Put simply, damage caused by blows to the head may never get repaired and almost always prove cumulative — each injury to your brain makes any previous injury worse, more debilitating, more potentially fatal.

You need to recognize any serious blow to the head as a problem, especially if you lose consciousness or experience blurred vision, confusion, lack of coordination or prolonged and sometimes intense headaches. Any concussion is a bad concussion; treat it that way.