Concussion Protocols For Sports Injuries: Are They Enough?


Concussion Protocols For Sports Injuries: Are They Enough?

Are athletes today safer from concussions? Given increased public awareness of how serious concussions can be?

Let’s consider the various “concussion protocols.” These new plans aim to protect athletes after they have suffered a hit to the head.

Concussions Keep Happening on the Playing Field

First, let’s be clear. Protocols are not preventing concussions. Concussions are a serious risk to student athletes as well as professional players.

With shocking regularity, athletes continue to be risking a concussion on the field. It doesn’t matter how young (or old) they are, or their level of skill.

This is true despite the increased understanding of how dangerous any concussion can be. Players suffering minor concussions may be victims of permanent injuries. Consider the following:

September 2016 College Football Concussion: IU Football Lineman Dan Feeney

Already, Hoosier football has had its first major concussion injury. Two weeks ago, Indiana University lineman Dan Feeney was injured in the IU game against Ball State. Feeney suffered a concussion. It’s reported that IU coach Kevin Wilson has Feeney on concussion protocol.

September 2016 Professional Basketball Concussion: Indiana Pacer Myles Turner

During a recent practice, Indiana Pacer Myles Turner suffered a head injury. The injury was reported to the media, with news Turner was on the Pacer’s concussion protocol. Everyone seems optimistic Turner will be on the court in plenty of time for the upcoming NBA season. Will he make it to training camp? That’s not clear.

Why are Concussions Still Happening to Athletes?

Head injuries are the most common form of injury suffered by athletes of any age in America today. It’s estimated as many as 3,800,000 sports and recreational concussions happen each year in the United States. Many of these concussions are head injuries with permanent harm. From the Brain Injury Association of America:

“Currently more than 5.3 million children and adults in the U.S. live with a lifelong disability as a result of TBI and an estimated 1.1 million have a disability due to stroke.”

According to the BIAA:

  • The majority of concussions happen without the victim fainting, falling, or losing consciousness.
  • Concussions happen from a force to the head. An athlete can have a hit to the back, for instance, that sends an “impulsive” force to the head, causing injury to the brain.
  • An MRI or CAT Scan will NOT show many concussion injuries.
  • Athletes are vulnerable to experiencing more than one head injury, or multiple concussions. Minor head injuries over time accumulate in harm. They can add up to permanent injury.

What’s a Concussion Protocol?

Concussion protocols are plans on how to deal with the brain injury after it is discovered. Different organizations have different concussion protocols. The Indiana Pacer’s concussion protocol is not identical to the concussion protocol followed by Indiana University.

NFL Concussion Protocol For Injured Players

The National Football League instituted its concussion protocol back in 2009. It has a name: “Play Smart, Play Safe.” The NFL concussion protocol was introduced in a letter to fans from NFL Commissioner Roger Goodall. It focuses both in helping the individual player as well as in advancing research and development to find new ways to make football safer.

(An argument can be made that this protocol was generated, at least in part, in reaction to the growing number of TBI lawsuits filed by pro football players against the NFL. Check out our prior posts for details on that controversy.)

You can read the NFL Concussion Protocol for injured NFL players online in this six-page document.

NFL players on concussion protocol must follow five steps in the protocol in order to return to playing the game. These are:

1. Rest. Stretching is okay. No team meetings. No intense work outs.

2. Light aerobics. Ride the stationery bike while being monitored. Stretching. Team meetings okay.

3. Weights. As the player progresses with cardio work, he can add weight workouts to his schedule. Team meetings okay.

4. Drills. No contact drills can be performed (throwing the ball, running the field, etc.) along with weights and cardio. No practice with team. Team meetings okay.

5. Field. Practice with the team on the field without constraint. Must have team medical approval and independent neurological clearance which includes neurological testing.

Indiana High School Football Concussion Protocol

For high school football players, the Indiana High School Athletic Association (”IHSAA”) has created its own concussion protocol for student football players who suffer a hit to the head while playing football here in Indiana.

Indiana high schools have new procedures to follow before a student can return to play after a suspected head injury. Indiana coaches are required to complete online courses on concussion injuries. Coaches are being taught not only how to help student athletes who have obviously suffered a head injury but to observe students for signs of unaddressed concussion symptoms.

Go here to read the IHSAA Concussion Protocol.

So, where are we with concussions and traumatic brain injuries today? They are still a danger to those playing in sports like football, basketball, and soccer. Concussions are serious risks; any injury to the brain is a serious injury. Students as well a professional players are playing sports under a risk of permanent harm.

In our next post, we’ll discuss how students suffering concussions can get justice for injuries suffered due to negligence.  These claims may be similar to the NFL concussion lawsuits, but they will not be the same.

Concussion protocols are for minimizing harm to the concussion victim after the brain has been hurt. The real goal needs to be protecting these players from being hurt and suffering a concussion in the first place. Let’s be careful out there!

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