Preventing head injuries
From the pros all the way down to the elementary school level, athletes all over the country have suited up again for the new football season.
Among the excitement and anticipation that comes with the first kickoffs, new concerns have arisen at every level over head injuries in the sport – and, for that matter, all contact sports. So much that regardless of age level, coaches, trainers, players and medical professionals are trying to find ways to reduce the threat.
At Kings, the athletic department continues to make adjustments as new information becomes available on the prevention, detection, and treatment of concussions. Keeping the players safe is, of course, the top priority.
A concussion is a traumatic brain injury that alters brain function. Concussions can happen in any sport, but are especially common in football.
“A concussion can happen in any sport – to all kinds of athletes; from track to football. It can also happen at any time. We had a kid dive for a ball once in football practice and he didn’t even hit anyone and still got one,” said KHS Assistant Principal Ron Corradini, who also coaches football.
The most common symptoms of a concussion include headache, amnesia, nausea, dilated pupils, and delayed response to questions. Not all symptoms are obvious, so professionals recommend that if an athlete exhibits any signs of a possible concussion, they should be examined as soon as possible.
Corradini said Kings takes all these precautions seriously.
“The most common symptoms we look out for are confusion and unclear speech,” he said. For example, when a player is suffering from a concussion, most of what they say doesn’t make any sense. He also said that the most common complaints are feeling light-headed and suffering acute headaches.
Possible future problems that pose a threat to athletes who frequently have concussions are epilepsy, post concussion syndrome, and second impact syndrome. People who have had multiple concussions double their risk of developing epilepsy within the first five years after.
Concussions can be tricky to detect. Some people begin having post-concussion symptoms — such as headaches, dizziness and thinking difficulties — a few days after the injury. Symptoms may continue for weeks to a few months after. Experiencing a second concussion before signs and symptoms of a first concussion have resolved may result in rapid and dangerous brain swelling.
So how can Kings, or any football program at any age, fight this?
You can start with better equipment. Kings varsity football coach Andy Olds said Kings now purchases stronger helmets, but stressed that there is no absolute safety guarantee on any brand.
“The two largest manufacturers of helmets are Schutt and Riddell. Both companies claim superior safety records but this is very hard to measure accurately,” said Olds. “The NFL uses Riddell, but they are tied into that through sponsorship money. Riddell’s are what we use at Kings. However, like most programs, some players like a different brand for personal reasons. If this is the case in the NFL, the Rival brand must be covered up when in public. At this point, a concussion-proof helmet does not exist.”
Kings athletes have also begun taking what many students call “the concussion test”: an online survey in which students have to remember sequences or shapes, then recall them later. Students take the test under normal conditions in order to get a baseline of their cognition. Then, if the student would ever suffer a suspected concussion, they can take the test again to see if the results change.
Even the NFL, with it’s top-tier, seemingly invulnerable athletes, continues to scramble to find ways to decrease concussions. Over the past two years, league officials have heightened scrutiny over players with head injuries, establishing very specific protocols about how to identify the injury, how long to treat, what sort of treatment is appropriate, and when to clear a player to return.
This summer the NFL settled a lawsuit with about 5,000 former players who claimed lifelong disabling effects of old head injuries suffered while playing. The suit was eventually settled for nearly $1 billion.
And this increased awareness may be working. Last week, ESPN reported that this year, NFL concussions are down 13 percent.
It may seem an obvious issue for a high-contact sport like football, but other sports such as soccer, baseball, and lacrosse are also struggling to find answers. Meanwhile, studies show that fewer kids across the United States are playing not only football, but baseball and soccer as well. When asked, parents are increasingly citing concerns over head injuries as reasons for keeping their kids out of the sport.
Just a few of the many articles on cuncussions that have appeared in the media over the past year.