Student-Athletes and Concussions

Sports-related concussions have been in the news a lot in the past few years.  According to the CDC, “A concussion is a type of traumatic brain injury-or TBI- caused by a bump, blow, or jolt to the head or by a hit to the body that causes the head and brain to move rapidly back and forth. This sudden movement can cause the brain to bounce around or twist in the skull, stretching and damaging the brain cells and creating chemical changes in the brain.”  Concussions may or may not result in a loss of consciousness.  Athletes who “have their bell rung” or “see stars” have probably sustained a concussion.  Symptoms include problems with thinking and remembering, emotions and mood, physical illness, and sleep.  Symptoms must always be taken seriously by parents, coaches, and the athletes themselves.

Statistics from the CDC indicate that every year, 20% (1 in 5) of high school athletes will sustain a traumatic brain injury.  Concussion rates are rising for middle school athletes.  Although the most dangerous sports for student- athletes are football, ice hockey, and soccer, participation in any sport can result in a concussion.

The University of North Carolina’s National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury Research reports that, on average, five high school football players die every year from head, neck, and spinal injuries.  Others are left with long-term negative consequences, including significant attention problems, memory deficits, and poor impulse control.  It is in everybody’s best interest to protect our student-athletes from these life-long deficits in cognitive functioning.

Since 2009, all 50 states have passed “Return to Play” laws.  The law in North Carolina, passed in 2011, is a good example.  The North Carolina Gfeller-Waller Act has three main areas of focus:

Education: Student-athletes and their parents must receive a Concussion Information Sheet and sign off on it.  All coaches, athletic trainers, first responders, school nurses, and volunteers must also get the information sheet and sign off that they have read and understood it.  Every coach for every sport must take two online courses: Fundamentals of Coaching and Concussion in Sports.  Coaches who fail to complete these courses are ineligible to coach in North Carolina public schools.

Post-Concussion Protocol: No student-athlete may return to play on the same day that he/she exhibits symptoms of a concussion.  Players may return to practice and games only after receiving written clearance from a medical professional who is trained in concussion management.

Emergency Action Plan: Every school has to have a venue-specific, detailed, written Emergency Action Plan that has been reviewed and approved by a licensed athletic trainer.
Failure to comply with the law, which is monitored and enforced by the North Carolina High School Athletic Association, can result in fines, ineligibility, and forfeiture of games.

Check your local school system website for details about the laws in your state.  We only get one brain – and we have to take care of it!  Failure to do so can have life-long consequences for our children.

Copyright Alice Wellborn 2016

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