Capitalizing on Sports Concussions: How Marketing of Protective Products Increases Athletes’ Injury Risk

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Sports concussions, more accurately called traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) have gotten a lot of attention over the past decade as professional athletes succumb to the aftermath of years of brutal collisions. Media exposure coupled with the emergence of disturbing research on TBIs has led many parents to question the safety of certain sports for their children. Schools and sports leagues have taken measures to mitigate potential brain trauma, partly to placate parents and protect aspiring young players from injury, and partly to reduce their own liability.

In a supply and demand economy, increased demand for anything is bound to draw opportunists from the shadows, and that is certainly true in the case of TBIs. Catering to the fears of parents for their children’s safety and the even greater fears of liability lawsuits on the part of schools and sports leagues, manufacturers of everything from nutritional supplements to helmets have climbed on the TBI bandwagon, touting their “protective” products with little or no evidence of their efficacy.

Nevertheless, sports programs have ponied up millions of dollars to invest in the latest protective gear, making TBIs a cash cow for manufacturers.

Pseudomedicine for Sports Concussions

If you know anything about marketing, you are aware that a good marketing campaign highlights the potential advantages of a product while downplaying or completely suppressing its shortcomings. In the case of TBI protection, manufacturers have resorted to pseudomedicine to cash in on the fears and concerns surrounding athletic TBIs.

Some prime examples of deceptive marketing based on pseudomedicine include:

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A chocolate-flavored sports drink whose ingredients supposedly speed concussion recovery. Not surprisingly, the premise for the manufacturers’ claims was based on an industry-funded unpublished study. Yet scores of parents and school districts geared up to spend thousands of dollars on the product before the study was discredited as completely bogus.

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Helmets and mouthpieces for soccer, football and other sports. Even though they have been proven by multiple studies to be ineffective in preventing TBIs, helmet and mouthpiece manufacturers were quick to jump on the TBI bandwagon and create or enhance products that are not only cumbersome to wear, but costly and useless.

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A jugular compression device to reduce brain trauma. This device may be the most far-fetched of all. The product is a plastic collar, called a Q-Collar (previously marketed at NeuroShield), that compresses the athlete’s jugular veins, with the goal of increasing cranial blood volume. The theory, purportedly based on woodpeckers, is that an inflated skull leaves less room for the brain to rattle around, in effect creating a protective cushion. Research referenced for purposes of marketing the device is shoddy at best, and has been completely debunked. Nevertheless, the device is still being sold and used by athletes.

TBI prevention products are about as effective as hiding under a desk to protect yourself from nuclear fallout – it may make you feel safer, but it won’t do you any good when the bomb drops.

How Bogus Sports Products Increase Brain Injury Risk

Not only are protective sports products useless in preventing TBIs, but they can actually increase the overall injury risk in athletes:

  • Protective gear gives the athlete a false sense of confidence, resulting in behavior changes like using more dangerous or aggressive playing strategies, increasing injury risk.
  • When faced with imminent contact, athletes instinctively and reflexively put the protected body part first. In the case of helmets and collars, the head is protected, so the athlete is more likely to go head-first into a collision, increasing the risk of brain trauma.
  • Coaches may underestimate the risk of injury to athletes who wear protective gear, overlooking concussion symptoms and placing athletes in harms way.

The Best Ways to Prevent TBIs

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, but the best prevention strategies have nothing to do with protective sports gear.

To reduce the risk of TBIs,

  • Keep your body in peak physical condition through strength training, cardio and range of motion exercises.
  • Maintain optimal hydrations levels before, during and after physical exertion.
  • Eat a nutrient-dense diet to keep your body’s systems working at their peak.
  • Do an adequate warm-up before engaging in play.
  • Use proper technique.
  • Never take unnecessary risks.
  • Never play through pain.
  • Get adequate sleep.
  • Give your body ample time to recover between games and training sessions.

Never Ignore Symptoms

After a collision or other traumatic episode, do a self-assessment for signs and symptoms of concussion, and seek medical treatment immediately if you suspect a TBI. Under no circumstances should you return to play if you think you may have a brain injury.

Concussion symptoms include:

  • headache
  • impaired cognition
  • dizziness
  • trouble concentrating
  • fatigue
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • impaired balance
  • irritability
  • disrupted sleep patterns
  • extreme sensitivity to noise or light
  • anxiety and/or depression

Sports Injury Prevention and Treatment in NYC

As an athlete, you have a great deal of control over the number and severity of injuries you sustain throughout your athletic career. Proper training, flawless biomechanics and optimal recovery strategies can go a long way toward preventing injuries. When you do become injured, the care you receive during rehabilitation plays a crucial role in your success or failure to return to play.

The sports medicine team and NYDNRehab combines the latest technologies and innovative therapies will world-class expertise to help athletes recover fully and return to play with confidence. Our virtual reality lab can help identify flaws in skills execution and help you correct them, to optimize your performance and reduce your risk of injury. Contact us today, and learn to play smarter, not harder, for a long and rewarding athletic career.

130 West 42 Street Suite 1055, New York NY 10036
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In this instance, an athlete was originally diagnosed with minor quadriceps muscle strain and was treated for four weeks, with unsatisfactory results. When he came to our clinic, the muscle was not healing, and the patients’ muscle tissue had already begun to atrophy.

Upon examination using MSUS, we discovered that he had a full muscle thickness tear that had been overlooked by his previous provider. To mitigate damage and promote healing, surgery should have been performed immediately after the injury occurred. Because of misdiagnosis and inappropriate treatment, the patient now has permanent damage that cannot be corrected.

The most important advantage of Ultrasound over MRI imaging is its ability to zero in on the symptomatic region and obtain imaging, with active participation and feedback from the patient. Using dynamic MSUS, we can see what happens when patients contract their muscles, something that cannot be done with MRI. From a diagnostic perspective, this interaction is invaluable.

Dynamic ultrasonography examination demonstrating
the full thickness tear and already occurring muscle atrophy
due to misdiagnosis and not referring the patient
to proper diagnostic workup

Demonstration of how very small muscle defect is made and revealed
to be a complete tear with muscle contraction
under diagnostic sonography (not possible with MRI)

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Complete tear of rectus femoris
with large hematoma (blood)

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Separation of muscle ends due to tear elicited
on dynamic sonography examination

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