(COLUMBUS, Ohio) – About 2 million children sustain sports-related concussions each year in the U.S., and though all 50 states have implemented laws to prevent, identify and treat concussions in school sports, schools face many challenges when putting these laws into practice. A new study by researchers at the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children’s Hospital identified the barriers faced by schools when implementing each of the three main components of concussion laws: education, removal from play and return to play.
“These laws exist on paper, but we need to understand how they are implemented in schools and the challenges that arise in order to determine if they are truly effective,” said Ginger Yang, PhD, MPH, principal investigator with the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, who led the study. “By talking to athletic trainers, we can identify those barriers to implementation and develop ways to overcome them.”
- Concussion education: The study finds that education materials used in many schools contain complex medical language and do not actively engage parents and coaches to teach best practices of preventing and identifying concussions.
- Removal from play: Unlike other injuries, there are often no outward signs of a concussion, making it difficult to identify. Athletes often hide their symptoms to avoid coming out of the game, which is often encouraged through an old-school philosophy from parents and coaches that athletes should be tough and play through their injuries.
- Return to play: Experts say it is critical for athletes to be treated by a physician who specializes in concussions following a head injury. “Concussions need to be diagnosed clinically after a doctor assesses how the injury happened, analyzes the symptoms that developed and completes a neurological exam,” said Sean Rose, MD, co-director of the Complex Concussion Clinic at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. However, the study finds that many athletes don’t have access to this specialized care, which can affect their recovery and make it difficult to know if it is safe for them to return to their sport.
If a concussion is not reported and treated properly, it can have lasting effects to an athlete’s brain and body. Experts are now working to address the barriers identified in the study by developing simple and effective education practices and working with policy makers and school administrators to implement protocols that recognize these issues.