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What’s Patient Protocol for a NFL Player? A Radiologist Tech Weighs In

Last month, Baltimore Ravens offensive lineman John Urschel announced his retirement from the NFL. His decision came after the release of a study that found all football players demonstrate signs of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, a degenerative brain disease. Although the dangers of concussions have been a heavily discussed topic for the last several years, we seldom hear about this trauma from the stadium clinicians’ perspective. Anthony Anderson, RTR, has been the Seattle Seahawks' radiologic technologist for 15 years. He recently weighed in on his experience identifying and treating players’ head injuries for Radiology Business.

“In the past, we would assume game-day injuries were going to be orthopedic, and most still are,” he said. “But due to greater CTE emphasis and awareness, we are trained to look for the signs of injuries of the brain during our imaging process with a player. When we have players in our X-ray room to treat a specific orthopedic injury, we still watch closely for the effects of CTE during that initial imaging process.”

He explains that although each team has their own medical protocol, most players undergo an MRI after each game. Previously, clinicians would only image C-spine injuries with AP lateral projections or sometimes flexion and extension. However, since more data has emerged on the alarmingly high rates of CTE in football players, imaging professionals perform lateral skull images in conjunction with standard cervical images.

Anderson’s work requires him to get to know the players on a personal level. “A few years ago, we had an incident with a player who trainers thought had a shoulder injury. Once they brought him to X-ray and we were in the process of acquiring the shoulder images, we noticed a personality change from the norm and indicated that to the team physician. The player was later diagnosed with a concussion.”

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