In the Violence Among NFL Players Related to Traumatic Brain Injury and PTSD?

The NFL has been working with the Armed Forces to share information about concussion issues. Up to a fifth of those in the U.S. military who served in Iraq or Afghanistan have come home with a blast-related concussion, post-traumatic stress disorder or both. Concussions are also an expected risk of playing professional football. Recent research suggests a link between the two conditions.

A study in the Journal of American Medical Association says blast concussions raise the risk of PTSD in soldiers. The researchers observed a relationship of pre-deployment psychiatric status and injury severity with post-deployment PTSD. Dr. Dewleen Baker, a co-author of the study and research director at the Veterans Affairs Center of Excellence for Stress and Mental Health in San Diego claims:

“Marines who suffered mild traumatic brain injuries while deployed were roughly twice as likely to get PTSD. In addition, structural changes in the brain after a head injury increase the likelihood of developing PTSD and decrease the chances of recovery.”

The study involved 1,648 Marines from 2008-12. About 20 percent had suffered a traumatic brain injury.

In 2012, the NFL diagnosed 261 concussions during preseason and regular-season practices and games combined. In 2013, there were 228 concussions, down 13 percent. Regardless of this decrease, there is growing concern that players are developing PTSD from these concussive injuries.

If players are experiencing PTSD from violent concussions, it is possible that we are seeing the widespread effects in the cases of several high profile NFL players recently. The increased irritability, angry outbursts, and aggressive behavior are all symptoms of traumatic brain injury. Difficulty maintaining close relationships is a symptom of PTSD. Is there a relationship between these issues? It is something to look into.

It is a fact that NFL players are disproportionately arrested for domestic violence, relative to the other crimes they commit. The league’s worst category is domestic violence with a relative arrest rate of 55.4 percent, more than four times worse than the league’s arrest rate for all offenses (13 percent). In other words, half the time when an NFL player is arrested, it is going to be for domestic violence. Furthermore, domestic violence accounts for 48 percent of arrests for violent crimes among NFL players, compared to the estimated 21 percent nationally.

The link between concussions and PTSD needs more research. Whether from past military trauma or the result of playing pro football, a variety of therapies can help. This is definitely an issue that warrants further inquiry.


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