From An Upper Cervical Chiropractic Perspective


Why I won’t let my sons play football – and why the movie “Concussion” featuring Will Smith should have a sequel

Dr. Bennet Omalu held the brains of many famous men in his hands. Brains donated to him by athletes (mostly NFL players) after their death. And Dr. Omalu himself will become more famous – more famous perhaps than he is now – when box office superstar Will Smith plays him in the new movie release, “Concussion.”

As exciting as this biopic is going to be for those of us who care about individuals with concussion, my prediction is that the end of the story won’t be written for some time.

In fact, it’s my deep hope that there’s a sequel that will have to me made – once it’s more widely known that concussion and brain trauma symptoms don’t just originate in the head – but in the neck as well.

Starting with Mike Webster and ending with former Chicago Bear Jim McMahon, you’re going to learn why Dr. Omalu will be played by Will Smith – and why a sequel may come about. And why a chiropractor like me – will never let my sons play football.

Will Smith (as Dr. Omalu) will reveal the discovery of the effects of repeated brain injury in new movie Concussion

December 2015 is the month that Will Smith will introduce the true-life character of Dr. Bennet Omalu to the world in a movie about “Concussion” – or what Dr. Omalu first called Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy or CTE.

Dr. Bennet Omalu is a forensic pathologist and medical examiner – and his job is to identify causes of disease and death in deceased persons.


Dr. Omalu is the doctor at the center of the investigation into the life and early death of several professional football players, including Mike Webster, Terry Long, and Andre Waters. His autopsies of their brains provided much of the initial “hard” evidence that repetitive trauma to the head could create lasting disease in the structure of the brain.

Changes in brain structure that would lead to changes in brain function – including chronic pain, problems with cognition and memory, and even shifts in personality – including a lot of personal emotional turmoil. (Several high profile NFL concussion cases have ended their own lives.)

What did Dr. Omalu discover about the brains of football players?

The trailers for the new Will Smith movie hints at the mystery that Dr. Omalu unfolded. While the brains looked normal, even healthy from the outside, cutting the brains into small sections and looking at them under the microscope revealed the damage hidden underneath.

The deceased athletes had tangles of proteins wrapped around neurons, similar to what doctors might see in someone who had died of Alzheimer’s. But of course, many of the these players weren’t dying of Alzheimer’s in their 70s or 80s. Many were dying in their 50s.

The chilling words of Dr. Bennet Omalu regarding brain injury and football

Two years ago, as part of a series of PBS series that tackled the issue of concussion in the NFL called “League of Denial,” Frontline conducted an interview with Dr. Bennet Omalu. You can watch that interview, and read the transcript in the PBS archives.

In the interview Dr. Omalu recounts the excitement and stress around the investigations. Seeing the breakdown in the brain structure in one football player was one small piece of evidence. But as more and more dead football players’ brains entered his lab – he saw the same signs of brain damage in every single case.

Dr. Omalu’s findings has had and will continue to have financial consequences for professional football, for the National Football League in the U.S., and other smaller leagues around the world. It’s a dramatic story that deserves a big screen telling with big screen stars.

And, in his interview with Frontline, Dr. Omalu says something ominous and chilling about the damage created by repetitive brain injury in football.

Omalu: Based on my experience, there has not been any NFL player I’ve examined that did not have CTE. Now, the degrees of advancement of the disease will be different, and they have different types. So my opinion is, based on my experience, is all of them. …

Frontline: Did you say all of them?

Omalu: All of them. All the NFL players I have examined pathologically, I have not seen one that did not have changes in their brain system with brain damage.

Frontline: And your guess is it’s not just a special group you are seeing who happen to kill themselves or whatever. It would be present even in active players even now?

Omalu: I think in active players who have played through high school, college, each and every one of them, in my opinion, has a certain degree of brain damage. CTE is progressive. Let me give you a good example.

Frontline: No, finish the — CTE is progressive; therefore —

Omalu: The longer they live, the more advanced the disease becomes. Am I making sense to you?

Frontline: Until they become Mike Webster.

Omalu: Yes…

While this is only one person’s opinion – it is the opinion of the the doctor responsible for examining the brains of dead NFL players – and that’s good enough for me to keep my sons off the football field for good. Personally I don’t think it’s worth it.

The little known procedure used by Jim McMahon used to help heal through brain trauma

Jim McMahon's recovery from football related concussion injuries as featured in Deseret news.
Jim McMahon’s recovery from football related concussion injuries as featured in Deseret news.

As chilling as Dr. Omalu’s statement is about chronic traumatic encephalopathy being progressive – there’s some some convincing evidence that not every football player with multiple concussions has to become a Mike Webster or an Andre Waters.

Take for example the case of Super Bowl Champion quarter back Jim McMahon – of the Chicago Bear Shuffling crew. McMahon’s struggle with the same symptoms of Webster and Waters was profiled in multiple news outlets, but one of the first to “get the story” was from the BYU newspaper (McMahon is an alumnus of the school).

Here are a few important quotes from the story:

“…For the past couple of years, it’s been well-documented that McMahon has been dealing with severe headaches, memory loss and the early stages of dementia, brought on by concussions he sustained during his NFL career.

It’s a devastating health issue, one that McMahon blames for the deaths of two of his former teammates, Dave Duerson and Andre Waters, who both committed suicide.

But now, it looks like there’s light at the end of that terribly dark tunnel for McMahon…’I had a guy in New York (Dr. Scott Rosa) that figured out I had vertebrae that was cutting off my spinal fluid. It was all backing up into my brain,’ he said in an interview a few days ago while in town to play in a fundraising golf tournament…

‘Once they adjusted those two vertebrae and all that stuff came out, I haven’t had any headaches….’

Some symptoms of chronic traumatic encephalopathy/concussion are really in the neck?

In case you’re wondering if you read that right – you did. Some of McMahon’s symptoms from years of multiple concussions were alleviated when his delicate neck alignment was corrected. By an upper cervical chiropractor.

C1/C2 (top neck bones) can have chronic mis-alignments that may lower your body’s ability to move blood and cerebrospinal fluid around your brain stem, and maybe even into parts of the higher brain.

It creates a variety of symptoms that some doctors have named “Cranio-Cervical” Syndrome. (See the article: “Neck pain or cranio-cervical syndrome?”)

As Dr. Rosa says in the article–the damage to McMahon’s brain has been done–who knows what kind of healing is possible in the future for McMahon.

The important thing is that his debilitating post-concussion headaches were really coming from his neck, and not just his head. And the change in fluid flow in his brain may (hopefully) have a positive outcome on his life.

This information can change the lives of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, almost overnight. For many NFL and college players, the damage has probably already been done. But for the kids still in middle school and high school – who are already struggling with CTE symptoms (and maybe cranio-cervical symptoms) – they need to know that their neck needs to be examined. Not just their head.

For those post-concussion kids of the future, I hope there is a sequel to the movie Concussion – the one where a brilliant upper cervical chiropractor, played by Johny Depp (of course), discovers that proper neck alignment feeds the brain. I’d go see that movie everyday.

Read my article: Concussion as a neck problem, not just a head problem? Why you need a second opinion for post-concussion injuries.

Read the patient success story: Headaches and post-concussion symptoms.

Read the excerpt from the newsletter of the National Upper Cervical Chiropractic Association (NUCCA): Upper Cervical Chiropractic and Concussion Injuries

If you’d like to consult with Dr. Zachary Ward regarding your post-concussion symptoms, or those of your child, please contact the office at (248) 598-4002.

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