The Boston Globe is reporting on new rules in Massachusetts aimed at protecting schoolchildren from potentially serious head injuries that can come on the football field or during other sports activities. An estimated 136,000 concussions occur in the course of high school sports each year in the United States, the article stated. The National Federation of State High School Associations has a training program specifically on concussions and head injuries, training coaches (who are then urged to train their student-athletes) to recognize slurred speech, confusion, nausea, fatigue, or dizziness as symptoms of a concussion.
Under a law passed by the Legislature last year, everyone involved with school teams - coaches, volunteers, players, parents, and other officials - must be trained annually in how to recognize concussions and get the appropriate care for students who suffer one.
Any student suspected of having a concussion now must be removed from play immediately and cleared by a doctor before returning. The law also calls for students diagnosed with a concussion to have a written plan for gradually returning to both athletics and academics.
What exactly is a concussion? It is not a bruise on the brain. Nor does it involve swelling or bleeding. A concussion can occur when an athlete collides with another player, a goal post, or the ground, causing the brain to rattle or twist in the skull.
That prompts what is referred to as a "metabolic cascade,'' a series of changes in which the brain's nerve cells stop functioning as they should and blood flow is slowed. The process is not fully understood, in large part because researchers aren't able to probe the brains of people who have suffered a concussion. And the effects are not visible on imaging tools, such as CT scans or MRIs.
If a person rests properly - meaning no physical activity beyond walking, and little cognitive activity - the brain can recover in almost all instances, said Dr. Robert Cantu, a Boston University professor of neurosurgery who has been studying concussions and advocating for better prevention among athletes for decades.
But if a concussed athlete keeps playing and suffers further trauma to the head, the situation becomes very different.
(image via Football Helmets Online)