Concussion Law Should Be Expanded

The recent concussion lawsuit settlement between the National Football League and its retired players, combined with studies of the links between head trauma and varying forms of dementia, should shine a light again on the health of local athletes.

Athletes, and football players in particular, are taught from a young age to be tough. They shouldn’t try to be too tough when it comes to head injuries.

A recently released study by New York University researchers published in the journal Radiology shows brain changes could be seen in many of the 28 patients studied for up to a year after even a mild concussion. The mental exertion of normal classwork also could be seen to worsen concussion effects – the harder students concentrated, the more severe their headaches or dizziness could become.

Concussions aren’t a new problem, but we’re still learning about the ways brain injuries can impact youth. This fall, the U.S. Institute of Medicine is expected to release a major report on sports-related youth concussions that will offer recommendations for new research and clarify treatment options, including ways to safely return students to their normal academic workload.

Two years ago, the state Legislature passed a law that requires school coaches, physical education teachers, nurses, and certified athletic trainers complete a state Education Department approved course on concussions and concussion management every two years. The law also requires that students who sustained, or are suspected to have sustained, a concussion during athletic activities are to be immediately removed from such activities. Students may not return to athletic activities until they have been symptom-free for a minimum of 24 hours and have been evaluated by, and receive written and signed authorization to return to activities from a licensed physician.

It’s easy to criticize the state for being too intrusive. Given what we are learning every day about the effects of head injuries, however, this particular piece of legislation is warranted and probably should be expanded. Part of the legislation requires high school athletes also have to go through baseline testing for concussions so doctors have a comparison to judge the impact of head injuries. The same testing should be extended to midget football and youth hockey, two popular sports in our area where youth are at risk of head injuries – and two sports which have no such testing.

All local coaches should always be wary of head injuries. It would be a shame if misdiagnosed injuries in high school were to impact a child for the rest of their life.