Massachusetts Head Injury Guidelines For School Sports Need Updating

Today’s school lesson is: When in doubt, sit it out.

This is exactly what the American Academy of Neurology would like to see happen, if and when high school athletes receive a head injury while playing sports for their school teams. Head injuries happen to athletes in high school and college all the time, and, with that motto, the American Academy of Neurology has concurred and offered guidelines to improve safety in school sports.

If players who are displaying head injury symptoms such as dizziness and headaches are allowed back in a game after a suffering head injury, it could lead to serious, possibly irreparable neurological damage. In that event, injured athletes would be wise to consult with a Boston head injury lawyer, to ascertain any negligence on the part of the schools, game officials or other parties involved in the incident. And in case you might be asking yourself whether players in a sports game relinquish all legal rights once they agree to play in the game, the answer is “No, they don’t.” If a player suffers preventable injuries due to someone else’s negligence, that party may be held legally responsible.

What exactly is a concussion? Acording to the American Association of Neurological Surgeons, it is a brain injury caused by a blow to the head, which involves a temporary loss of normal brain function. Bruises or cuts may be present on the head but in the majority of cases, the injured person shows no outward sign of trauma. The statistics on concussions are revealing. According to the most recent data, the University of Pittsburgh Brain Trauma Research Center found that more than 300,000 sports-related concussions occur in the USA each year. They also discovered that the likelihood of a school athlete sustaining a concussion is as high as 19 percent per year of play.

And concussions don’t just happen to school athletes. At this writing, more than 3,000 former football players for the National Football League have filed concussion-related lawsuits against the NFL, specifically for the head injuries those athletes have suffered in the course of their playing professional sports. Those lawsuits may very well result in billions of dollars in legal damages. Here in the Commonwealth, Boston concussion injuries happen on the field all the time, and are just as serious as any of those that happened to NFL football players.

Head injuries are not to be taken lightly. Traditionally, high school coaches have determined the subtle signs of concussions, out in the field, on the sidelines, by talking to athletes and assessing their symptoms, after they have received a blow to the head. Their symptoms might include nausea, vertigo, ringing ears, sensitivity to light and headaches. But the American Academy of Neurology would like school coaches and trainers to go one step further, by using something called a five-minute memory test. It is a technique by which a rapid diagnosis of concussion is made. It is known as the “Maddocks questions” and is an effective tool that can be used on the sidelines. It involves posing some of these questions to the injured athlete:

What field are we in right now?
What team are we playing today?
Did we win last week?
What period is it?
Who is your opponent presently?

These questions are important, because concussions frequently involve the athlete’s inability to maintain coherent thoughts; awareness disturbance that manifests itself in rising distractibility; and the victim’s inability to implement specific goal-directed movements.

In its creation of new guidelines, the Academy would also prefer that state health departments institute specific “sports concussion registries”; these would include student-athlete records, of student athletes who have experienced concussions, in the hope that their information would assist researchers and doctors to discover more about the effect of concussions and brain injury on long-term brain functioning. The Academy also would use these registries to ascertain how head injuries impact the academic performances of student athletes.

School sports are great. They teach kids of all ages how to develop a team spirit, and they build character. But these goals should not be sacrificed when a student athlete gets bashed in the head by another player, whether intentionally or not. Head injuries and concussions can have serious consequences. And remember – there is no such thing as a “minor concussion.”