Concussion in sports now on everyone’s radar
Westborough, MA March 21,2014 A feature in the Boston Globe published in late October, 2012 cited an incidence of over 3000 concussions in Massachusetts’ athletes. Public health records obtained by the Globe under the freedom of information act revealed the current state of head injury among athletes enrolled in sports for 2010 – the first year the data were collected. Given the number of schools who did not report, this number is likely to be an underestimate of the true number of head injuries.
Since Fall, 2009 Massachusetts has expected that all athletes, parents, coaches, and officials receive standardized training on the effects of concussion including signs and symptoms. This may account for the large uptick in numbers reported in the Globe story. The worrisome issue is why there is incomplete compliance with the laws mandate. Arguably, the true concussion figures remain unknown.
In Southbridge, MA, a Pop Warner football game recently resulted in 5 concussions in a single contest. Pop Warner is the youth football program for children from ages 5-14. On this day 2 mismatched teams squared off for a match in which the referees failed to regard the league mandated “mercy” rule that ends the contest when the score becomes one-sided such that the outcome is not in doubt. This did not happen even though the team from Southbridge was more than 28 points ahead of the team from Tantasqua as per league rules. Southbridge won the game 52-0. The Tantasqua athletes sustained 5 concussions resulting in disciplinary action taken against the coaches and referees.
These kinds of stories will continue to make news as long as we fail to take seriously the potential impact of head injuries. Youth sports are vital for the development of physical skill, team discipline, and psychological well-being. But nothing takes the place of protecting athletes from potentially lifelong injury now linked to repeated concussion. Just as one would not permit an athlete to return to the field with a unhealed fracture to his/her leg, athletes with concussion must too be rested.
Baseline testing has been shown to provide a good starting point in getting a “snapshot” of the child’s neurocognitive functioning. Then, if an injury should occur post-injury testing can be initiated and will be used to determine when the child is fully healed from the concussion. Websites like: http://www.concussionassessment.wordpress.com can offer baseline programs and consultation for teams who aren’t sure of the new protocols for concussion management.