Doctors Throw Flags On High School Concussions Professional sports leagues and sports medicine doctors are teaming up in support of new laws designed to protect young athletes from concussions. The regulations are aimed at reducing the more than 60,000 concussions among high school athletes each year.
NPR logo

Doctors Throw Flags On High School Concussions

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/133437361/133443140" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Doctors Throw Flags On High School Concussions

Doctors Throw Flags On High School Concussions

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/133437361/133443140" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

From NPR News, it's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

NPR's Jon Hamilton reports on a new effort to pass laws that will protect the brains of young athletes.

JON HAMILTON: Jeff Miller of the National Football League says there's a simple reason.

JEFF MILLER: Unfortunately, kids at the high school level, the youth sports level, don't have neurosurgeons, neurologists and some of the finest doctors on the sidelines. It's just not practicable.

HAMILTON: So the NFL, the American College of Sports Medicine and a long list of other groups are joining forces to require other measures to protect young athletes. Miller says the coalition wants every state to have a law like the one passed in Washington in 2009.

MILLER: Washington state was the first to pass a law named after a youth football player named after Zackery Lystedt, who was a terrific kid and suffered some debilitating injuries as a result of a concussion suffered in a youth football game.

HAMILTON: A concussion law might have helped Sarah Rainey, a high school soccer player in Alexandria, Virginia. During a game 10 months ago, she took a violent hit.

SARAH RAINEY: And I thought I just got the wind knocked out of me, and I told my coaches and the trainer that I was OK. I passed the sideline evaluation, and I played the remaining five minutes and then two overtime periods.

HAMILTON: But after the game, she began experiencing headaches, nausea and fuzzy thinking. Rainey tried to go back to school, but everything about it made her symptoms worse.

RAINEY: The small print, reading for homework or a computer screen, the lights, and there were several things that just - even fluctuations in my teachers' voices would trigger my headaches and make me seasick.

HAMILTON: She was treated by Dr. Gerry Gioia at Children's National Medical Center in Washington, D.C. Gioia is part of the coalition pushing for concussion laws. He says no law could have prevented Rainey's concussion, but a law might have helped limit the damage.

GERRY GIOIA: The problem is that she was let back into the game later on, and it's hard to know exactly the contribution of that. She didn't take another hit, but certainly she was overworking that body and brain during the period of this metabolic crisis.

HAMILTON: Gioia says Rainey also returned to class too soon, something else a law could have prevented. He says an injured brain is like a sprained ankle: It heals faster if you don't use it too much.

GIOIA: As you're learning and thinking and doing all that good performance activity in the school, that's demanding more from your brain than it can handle. It's taking away the important energy toward recovery, and it basically then is affecting, negatively, your recovery.

HAMILTON: Gioia says the coalition wants concussion laws to include provisions for easing injured students back into the classroom. But for the laws to work, athletes who take a blow to the head need a proper evaluation. Jim Whitehead of the American College of Sports Medicine says that means involving a medical professional with the right expertise.

JIM WHITEHEAD: You don't want coaches making medical decisions. Sorry, they didn't go to school for that. That isn't their core competency. So you want to take any of those things out of the hands of people who really aren't qualified to make those judgments and put it in the hands of professionals who are.

HAMILTON: Whitehead says what coaches should do is learn the subtle signs that could mean a concussion.

WHITEHEAD: And if there's any doubt whatsoever, you sit the athlete until he or she has been cleared by a health professional.

HAMILTON: Jon Hamilton, NPR News.

Copyright © 2011 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.