Concussions are the most common type of brain injury, especially among athletes. Every year, approximately 300,000 young athletes sustain some sort of head injury, with 90% of those head injuries being concussions. What is even more disturbing is that up to 50% of athletes don’t say anything because they do not want to be taken out of the game. David Hetiz described this “Culture of Resistance” in his 2013 article “Dangerous Concussions on the Rise in Youth sports; young players feel obligated to remain in the game in order not to not let down their teammates, coaches, and even parents. This results in many undiagnosed concussions, which can cause further complications in the future.
A concussion is typically caused by a blow to the head that forces the brain to bounce against the skull which causes brain cells to be stretched and damaged. According to the CDC, this can result in serious chemical changes in the brain. This damage is especially dangerous for youths since their brains are not fully developed yet and cognitive development could be permanently stunted.
If a player continues to play not knowing they have a serious brain injury, there is not only the possibility of a second concussion, but the player then becomes at risk for serious, long-term brain damage. In May 2009, the State of Washington passed the “Zackery Lystedt Law” to address concussion management in youth athletics. The Washington law was the first state law to require a “removal and clearance for Return to Play” among youth athletes. Now all 50 states have a Return to Play law. In Pennsylvania, new legislation (Safety in Youth Sports Act), clearance regulations (CDC Medical Clearance), and required testing (ImPACT), are all programs that have been implemented to educate about concussion symptoms, treatment, and prevention.
With concussions among young players on the rise, Pennsylvania took action and soon passed legislation called the Safety in Youth Sports Act. This act, through three steps, takes a look at the serious repercussions of having a concussion, and focuses on what to do when a player is suspected of having one. The Safety in Youth Sports Act is designed to educate parents, student-athletes, and coaches. Coaches are required to take special classes and become certified on concussion protocol. Parents and student-athletes are required to read the mandatory information that is provided to them about concussions, and sign release forms for their children acknowledging the risks. Under the Safety in Youth Sports Act, legislators are hopeful that this act will educate all those involved – not just the coaches, but the parents and players as well.
The impact of just one concussion can result is serious brain damage if the head does not heal properly. Since a player who has suffered a concussion is three to six times more likely to suffer another, it is imperative that the player follows a strict clearance protocol to return to play. The Safety in Youth Sports Act now requires a student-athlete to be cleared by a medical professional, in writing, before he or she can return to play. The Center for Disease Control also requires special medical clearance by using a five-step program. Under this heavily monitored program, the athlete gradually increases exercises and activities until he or she is symptom free. Read more about the five steps and other requirements from the CDC.
Designed by the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, the ImPACT assessment is a successful tool in quickly determining if a player has a concussion. Players at the start of their season are required to take a basic cognitive test, to measure baseline brain function. If the player is suspected of having a concussion, then the athletes’ current cognitive abilities will be compared to their baseline test. Differences in results could indicate not only if the player has a concussion, but the severity as well. Read more about the ImPACT test and how it is measured and administered.