The time is right to attempt to further educate the public with regard to sports concussion. While sports concussion has been a chronic problem ranging from youth to professional sports, only recently has it gained such notoriety in the public media as well as through formal legislation. ESPN has aired segments on sports concussion over the course of many years. Articles on sports concussion have been written in sports-related magazines, sports sections of newspapers, as well as numerous medical journals. While sports concussion is not new, it has been quite apparent over the years that many people have ?turned their heads? when discussing or when making decisions about sports concussion. The reason for this might be due to the possibility of a ?star athlete? being restricted to return to play. Undoubtedly, this is the wrong approach; sports concussion is something that is more prevalent now than ever, possibly due to increased awareness and understanding of the potential adverse effects from concussion.
Many years ago I authored a journal article entitled ?Major Consequences of Minor Brain Injury?. While that article did not specifically discuss sports concussion, it did list the potential problems associated with concussion (minor brain injury) especially if an individual was not diagnosed or treated for such injury. The potential cumulative effects of multiple concussions over time (prior to the brain fully recovering from an initial concussion) can be devastating. The worst scenario is permanent brain damage or even death; this is well documented in the clinical literature. Student athletes are more prone for adverse and possible devastating effects from concussion as a result of their developing brain. A brain does not fully develop in girls and boys until ages 18 and 21, respectively. While it is easy to diagnose concussion (standard assessment, subjective complaints), it is more difficult to properly manage individuals with concussion.
It is mandatory for many major college and professional athletes to undergo baseline neurocognitive testing prior to the outset of the season. This enables better diagnosis and monitoring of those individuals who sustain a concussion. Unfortunately, our student athletes have not been scrutinized as much as professional athletes. Despite offering free baseline screenings, through the John Heinz Rehab Sports Concussion Management Program, many school districts, coaches, student athletes, and parents, have elected not to have student athletes undergo baseline neurocognitive testing. The question I have asked myself for years is why? If testing is mandated for professional athletes such as those in the NFL, NHL, MLB, and NASCAR, to name a few, then why are our youth and student athletes alike not being forced into having baseline testing? It seems ironic that these same student athletes are ?forced? into having an annual physical to check their strength, range of motion, and cardiac status, yet they are not ?forced? into having a baseline of neurocognitive functions prior to the start of the season.
Fortunately, ?the lights at the stadium have finally turned on?. On 5/26/10, support for H.B. 2060 has been noted across Pennsylvania. The impetus for this bill is to increase awareness of sports concussion and to ensure a safe and timely return to play for our student athletes following concussion and more severe brain injuries. In all likelihood, this bill will pass with eventual mandate for all student athletes involved in various sports (not just contact) to undergo baseline neurocognitive testing. In essence, it is time for everyone to ?step up to the plate?. Terms such as ?no pain, no gain?, ?get up and brush yourself off?, and ?hurry up and get back into the game?, are obviously prehistoric sayings which clearly do not bode well for the safety of our student athletes.
Remember our young student athletes are our future. While the vast majority of them will never participate in professional sports, they are our future teachers, bankers, doctors, lawyers, and business people so ?use your head? when making decision about sports concussion. Student athletes deserve our protection through wise decisions; namely, baseline testing, immediate and accurate diagnoses and more importantly, proper management.