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Special Report : Concussions, Part One

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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -

It's one of the most devastating injuries in all of sports. On Tuesday we have part one of our series on concussions where we go inside the helmet to find out how they occur and more importantly how the number of them might be reduced.  

Whether you play on Fridays, Saturdays or Sundays perhaps the biggest fear is that of a head injury. Although many associate concussions with helmet to helmet contact, that's not always the case.

"Even if you get hit in the shoulder or if you get hit in the chest, if you're not prepared and if you're not tensing your neck and you're not ready for that hit, those forces can be transferred up through your neck into your skull and have that same sort of shaking," says Elizabeth Teel, Research Specialist UNC Sports Related Traumatic Brain Injury Research Center.

That shaking of the brain has a significant impact. The research team at the University of North Carolina Sports Related Traumatic Brain Injury Research Center says the initial symptoms are problems with your balance, dizziness or trouble concentrating. But of course it can be much worse than that.

"The more concerning issues are when these problems are severe enough to impact your daily life," says Michael Clark, Research Specialist UNC Sports Related Traumatic Brain Injury Research Center. "You're not able to do the things you normally would do. We also get very concerned when those symptoms don't go away. Typically we expect 7 to 10 days and these symptoms usually resolve on their own. However in 15 to 20 % of cases that's not the case, and we see these symptoms lasting two weeks, months later sometimes even years."

Unfortunately the injury is all too common. And not just in football, in all sports. But with the sheer number of injuries on the gridiron reaching into the millions the University of North Carolina is taking the next step in research.

"We like to use our helmet accelerometers to identify players who might be at risk," said Clark. "Their tackling bio mechanics may be off, maybe they're leading with their head too much. We can identify those players and try and coach them more about using proper mechanics, not leading with your head, keeping your head up and using proper positioning when you're going for a tackle."

They have over 100 censors in helmets of Carolina players and local high schoolers in the Chapel Hill area. The research team has been able to pinpoint where players are being hit, which hits may cause concussions and from there assist them to adjust their techniques to be  safer.

"If we identify a player who maybe concussed we need to look at some tape and make some adjustments with their positional coaches, their athletic trainers and all those people will be involved in the process," says Teel. "So it's really integrated and it's for their benefit and for their safety. We want them to have good, healthy, long careers."

But how do you prevent concussions? The research team at Carolina says there's no stopping them but we might be able to reduce them. They say if coaches and players modify their behavior, in other words change the way they tackle, then many of these injuries can be avoided. These changes are already being made in Eastern North Carolina at an early stage. It's called ‘heads up' tackling.

"We partnered up with USA football and USA football is also sponsored by the NFL. In conjunction with the resources that they have available we've gotten some coaches certified, it offers us a ton of drills, a library of knowledge and we can use that even in our practices for 7 and 8 year olds, " says Tim Manning, Community Coordinator, Coach Greenville Pop Warner.

Coach Tim Manning says his kids have embraced the ‘heads up' tacking changes and hopes they take those techniques they've learned to the next level.

As far as the research team at UNC, they hope their work with censors can help to greatly reduce the number of concussions in the near future.

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