The biggest concern for athlete safety, at all levels, is head injuries. New studies are showing the drastic impact that repeated concussions and brain trauma can have on both current and former athletes. As a result, a number of different groups are working on projects to change rules that eliminate blows to the head, improve helmets and other equipment, and improve the way head injuries are monitored and treated.
In March, at the 5th annual Sports Safety Summit in Washington, D.C., the National Athletic Trainers Association released new guidelines on the management of concussions. The new statement updates the original 2004 guidelines and includes information education, prevention, evaluation, and considerations needed before athletes return to the field.
“Education is the key, and concussions are not just with football, it is with any sport where there is an incident where the athlete can have a head injury,” says vice president of the Tennessee Athletic Trainers Society Scott Byrd. “It is not the blow to the head that causes the injury, it is the movement of the brain inside the skull, and you can have that in any sport.”
While the American public might pay the most attention to former NFL and NHL players who are suing their leagues for not properly handling concussions, the problem often begins at the high school level. There, compliance with return-to-play guidelines is key for preventing problems from becoming intensified. In the past few years, the number of athletes sticking to them is increasing.
“In 2007 we had just above 50 percent of athletes noncompliant,” said Dr. Mark Reiderer, a clinical fellow in primary care sports medicine at Children’s Hospital Colorado. “In 2012-2013, it looked like 20 percent. We think that’s excellent.”
Since sport-related concussions account for 58% of all emergency department visits for kids aged 8 to 13 and 46% of all concussions for adolescents aged 14 to 19, following the proper protocols is vital for athletes of those ages. The risk of getting another concussion increases every time an athlete gets one, and individuals who have had three are at a 3.5 times greater risk for another.
As a result, it is the responsibility of not just athletes but also coaches, trainers, and administrators to help limit the most severe concussions.