Medical Breakthroughs 2013: The State Gets Serious About Concussion Prevention

One of the Hudson Valley’s top medical breakthroughs in 2013


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Bumps and bruises are an everyday part of student athletics, from football to soccer. But when it comes to head injuries and concussions, more coaches, educators, and health experts are nowadays taking a red-light stance to the “tough-it-out-and-get-back-in-the-game” attitude that often prevailed in the past.

“There’s been more awareness about concussions lately because of media attention across the nation on the topic of head injuries, especially at the professional level,” says Todd Nelson, assistant director of the New York State Public High School Athletic Association, which is based in Latham.

And the American Association of Neurological Surgeons says more than 300,000 sports-related concussions occur annually in the U.S. — with the likelihood of suffering a concussion in a contact sport as high as 19 percent per year of play. More than 62,000 concussions are sustained each year nationwide in high school contact sports alone.

When it comes to protecting young athletes, New York isn’t sitting on the sidelines — it has joined at least 33 other states in issuing revamped regulations to help schools deal with prevention and treatment of sports-related concussions.

In July 2012, Governor Cuomo signed a state law containing several key provisions: Parents must sign permission slips before kids can practice or play in games, and schools must pull children from play immediately if they’re suspected of having suffered a concussion.

“In addition, student athletes are now required to be kept from play until they’ve been symptom-free for at least 24 hours following a possible concussion, and must have written medical clearance before resuming,” according to Nelson, who says the NYSPHSAA — which is affiliated with nearly 800 schools in the state — worked with Albany legislators to draft the new law, the Concussion Management and Awareness Act. 

The mandate also requires certain school staff, such as coaches and trainers, physical education teachers, and nurses, to undergo concussion-management training; many schools are also offering more head-injury information on their Web sites, too.

“About one-third of the school districts we work with already had some kind of concussion-training program in place; this requires all school districts to have a program,” says Nelson, who says the new requirements apply to grades seven through 12 interscholastic programs in New York public and charter schools.

Experts say all this is a step in the right direction, because a concussion — a jarring of the brain or spinal cord — is no laughing matter. True, a conk on the head might cause nothing more than a few seconds of “seeing stars,” and kids — sometimes even parents and coaches — may downplay these accidents, allowing a child to return immediately to the playing field. But a bump to the head can sometimes trigger anything from temporary confusion to a brief spell of amnesia. In severe cases, unconsciousness can occur; if another blow to the head happens during recovery from a concussion, permanent brain injury — and even death — can result.

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