School Concussion Policies - What is All The Fuss?

LWA/J Newman

 The change in how concussions are handled during school and school sports has changed drastically since today's parents were schoolchildren.  School staff and sports coaches attend concussion trainings and are often super quick to notify parents of a possible head injury.  On top of the quick initial response, children and athletes are often not allowed to return to school or sports until they have been cleared by a medical professional.

 Recommended recovery protocols can be long and last over several days or weeks.

If you are like me, you grew up in a time when getting hit in the head during sports activities meant taking a few minute break on the sidelines before returning to play.  Perhaps you went to the doctor if you lost consciousness or felt dizzy several hours after your injury occurred.  If you grew up like this, today's concussion policies can seem, well, a little excessive in their detailed and strictly enforced protocols for a slow and cautious return to school and play.

So, what gives?  What are some of the reasons for the big changes?  Are people today really being too careful when it comes to concussion.

Based on what we know today, I think the current policies make a lot of sense.  Here are a few reasons why:

1   A concussion is a brain injury  We always knew that concussions are a type of brain injury.  But think about it for a second, your brain is a thinking tool that lasts your whole life.

 Children and teens are still growing and developing their brains.  Although newer research has suggested that the adult brain changes and can be improved more than we once thought, it still makes sense to care for this important organ and provide extra cautious care to injured children and youth.

2   According to statistics from the Southwest Athletic Trainers Association, 50% of second impact concussion suffers die from their injuries.  By returning to play before the first concussion has had a chance to fully heal, the risk of death is very high.


3  Children and teens often take a much longer time to heal from their injuries than adults.  All of that development and growth work combined with trying to heal an injury leads to long recoveries.  

4  Second Impact Sufferers have incredibly long recovery periods, lasting months instead of days or weeks.  Combined with the risk of death listed in #2, it just makes sense to take recovery seriously.

5  Thinking too much taxes the injured brain, slowing down or even halting concussion recovery.  

Washington state was the first state to implement a conservative return to play policy in 2009.  About a month later, Oregon enacted similar legislation.  Currently, there are laws or policies in all 50 states taking a very conservative approach to concussion treatment in today's youth.  The US Center for Disease Control is continuing to research how effective these policies are in leading to the best outcome for young concussion sufferers.  

The body of scientific evidence for showing how effective these policies are and what fine-tuning is best is still small.  Research continues on, however.  Until more evidence on what best practices are in schools and sports for concussions, the great risks associated with concussion show that these highly cautious policies are in the best interest of our children.

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