October 14, 2012

Editorial: Address concussion management in sports


---- — During the last few years, professional, collegiate and high-school athletes have been the focus of intense research resulting in new procedures for diagnosing, measuring, tracking and treating concussions for sports-related head injuries.

It’s about time. Some states, such as New York, have passed legislation requiring concussion-management policies for high schools in the state. Other states have picked up the responsibility for their student athletes without being compelled to do so.

This is serious business. Some parents have even opted to keep their children away from contact sports for fear of brain injury.

All you need do is read some of the headlines around the country to gauge its seriousness: 3,500 former players of the National Football League have filed lawsuits because they suffered brain injuries during their playing days and few in the NFL took the issue seriously. A school-board member at a Dover high school in New Hampshire, himself a medical doctor, has suggested the school drop its entire football program because of concern for such violent injuries.

And on the West Coast, Pop Warner football leagues have come under scrutiny for allowing helmet-to-helmet tackling and offering rewards for violent tackles. These are kids 10, 11 and 12 years of age, for heaven’s sake.

The Peru Central School District, like other districts in the North Country, have initiated stringent policies to diagnose brain trauma in sports, treat the injury and ensure the athlete is healthy before returning to competition. In fact, Peru had a concussion-management program in place for three years prior to the state mandate to do so by July 12 of this year.

And it hopes to test all high-school and middle-school students during the next school year.

In Peru, the initial assessment of a student-athlete begins prior to a sports season. The athletes are required to complete a so-called test on a computer utilizing special software to measure various skills: memory, visual, verbal, shapes and colors. It also gauges reaction time.

The resulting scores become the baseline in those skills to measure the effects of the athlete getting his or her bell rung or receiving any other blow to the head. The baseline scores are good for two years.

If an athlete suffers such an injury, he or she must take the test again between 24 and 72 hours after being headache-free, which is the main determination in diagnosing concussion. There are four versions of the test. The injured athlete can retake it 48 hours after each attempt.

But more important is the “return to play” protocol. It will be a minimum of eight days before the athlete can return to competition. Besides the 72-hour post-injury waiting period, there are five additional days: light aerobic exercise on day 1; sport-specific exercising on day two; non-contact training on day three; full-contact training on day four; and returning to play on day five.

We can rest assured that our area school districts have seriously taken up the challenge to address concussion management.