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Editorial: Caution regarding athletes, concussions a must

Jul. 26, 2013 @ 12:33 AM

As the fall sports season approaches at high schools and middle schools in West Virginia, head coaches are becoming familiar with a different kind of playbook — how to recognize concussions among their players and what to do when they occur.

For the sake of the athletes in their charge, the actions outlined to deal with concussions is far more important than the X’s and O’s of offense or defense.

Extra attention to sports-related head injuries has intensified in recent years, as more has become known about the risks and growing publicity about high-profile cases where athletes have suffered. That’s as it should be, because the consequences of concussions can be devastating, yielding such symptoms as headaches, memory loss, depression and other decreased cognitive function. The effects sometimes occur immediately, sometimes not until decades later.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, each year U.S. emergency departments treat an estimated 173,285 sports- and recreation-related traumatic brain injuries, including concussions, among children and adolescents. During the last decade, emergency room visits for such injuries among children and adolescents increased by 60 percent, according to the CDC. It’s clear that head injuries in sports is a danger, and probably has been for some time. The increased rate of treatment over the past decade no doubt in part reflects a greater awareness.

To better protect student athletes throughout the state, the West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission this year is requiring all head coaches for middle school and high school sports to receive training on concussions. Part of it is focused on recognizing the symptoms, and the other is how to proceed when a concussion is suspected.

The requirement is included in a larger campaign to educate people in all of West Virginia’s schools about concussions. The activities commission is opening up the training course required of coaches to anyone who is interested, and it plans to put  posters and information in every school.

The commission also will collect data on concussions in all the state’s schools this year, building a pool of information that could be useful in the future to pinpoint causes and possible preventative steps.

Even before this year, several area school systems have worked with the medical community to get a better handle on concussions among high school athletes. For example, in Cabell County, a joint venture of Scott Orthopedic Sports Medicine and St. Mary’s Regional Neuroscience Center uses a computer test to determine if an athlete has had a concussion, whether there is evidence of recurring concussions, the proper treatment for an athlete and when an athlete can get back to playing the sport. It all starts by doing a baseline test of athletes before the season starts, and using that information to help determine after an incident whether the student suffered a concussion and how best to treat it.

The focus on the potential damage from head injuries is important. Medical experts stress recurring concussions — particularly if an athlete has yet to recover from a previous one — only add to the risk of severe, permanent injury. So, it is crucial that concussions be recognized and dealt with promptly.

Let’s hope the effort to increase awareness and spark action when appropriate will keep our athletes healthier.

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