Concussions are a scary topic for athletes and their parents.
About 20 percent of teens nationwide said they’ve been diagnosed with at least one concussion, with almost 6 percent suffering more than one, according to research published last year in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
“A brain injury suffered by a child has a more devastating impact than the same severity of brain injury suffered by an adult,” noted Dr. Maria Lomba, medical director of New Braunfels Regional Rehabilitation Hospital. “Unlike an adult’s brain, a child’s brain is continuously undergoing development, so it’s more susceptible to injury.”
With recent legislation requiring U.S. high schools to report concussions by student-athletes, more head injuries are being documented — and the rate of repeat concussions has decreased, a recent study shows.
From 2009-2014, every state and the District of Columbia passed concussion laws focused on young athletes.
In Texas, House Bill 2038 (also known as Natasha’s Law) was approved in 2011 and required school districts to follow guidelines to ensure the safety of student-athletes, including training coaches to recognize signs of concussions, creating a Concussion Oversight Team of health professionals, and talking to parents.
“The key feature in these laws is focused on secondary prevention — or management of a concussion after it occurs,” said Dr. Ginger Yang, a sports-injury researcher with Ohio State University.
Last year, Yang and her co-authors published an American Journal of Public Health study exploring the results of legislation on reducing recurring concussions. Data was analyzed for new and recurrent head-injury rates across nine sports before, during and after laws became effective.
Football recorded the highest average annual concussion rate, followed by girls’ soccer and boys’ wrestling. Overall, males saw a higher average annual concussion rate than females.
However, when comparing gender-comparable sports such as basketball, soccer and baseball/softball, females reported almost double the yearly rate as males.
“It is possible that girls have higher risk of concussions than boys or are more likely to report injuries,” Yang said in her research.
North East and Northside independent school districts update their concussion protocols annually.
As part of NEISD’s plan, students who have been concussed must take part in five gradual steps of light to vigorous activity under a guardian’s guidance before resuming play, and receive approval from a doctor.
In 2016, NEISD also installed insulation beneath eight synthetic-turf surfaces to help prevent injuries and keep players safer. The substance, Brock PowerBase shock pads, aims to reduce Gmax — the peak force of impact, which may lessen the risk and severity of a concussion.
“(Turf) fields become hard over time, especially with multiple groups practicing and playing on the campus field,” said Karen Funk, NEISD executive director of athletics. “We were very interested in a pad that would cushion the body and the head.”
All seven NEISD high school main football fields and Comalander Stadium were updated with the material at a total cost of $10.5 million.
Lomba said if a coach or parent suspects a student-athlete has suffered a concussion, “contact your physician and give him or her plenty of rest.”
Concussion symptoms may include difficulty thinking clearly, concentrating or remembering, feeling “slowed down,” tired, having no energy, blurry vision, headaches, nausea or vomiting (close to when the injury occurs), dizziness and balance problems, sensitivity to light, irritability, sadness, nervousness, more emotional than usual and a change in sleeping habits.
“A concussion causes torn or stretched brain cells that need the body’s energy to heal. So, rest is essential,” Lomba said. “Beyond rest, the most beneficial treatment of a concussion is to slowly reintroduce simple physical and cognitive activities into your child’s life with the help of a health care professional.”