The Times West Virginian

January 10, 2014

Needed steps being taken to protect athletes from concussions

Times West Virginian

— As more details about the devastating effects of concussions emerge, so does the fact that more work is being done to keep athletes safe.

Consider the effort being made in Florida.

There, researchers think they have come up with a way to improve football helmets and better protect players against the blows that experts say contribute to most concussions.

They say using fluid-filled pouches — which tests show protect the brain from the rotational or shearing force of off-center hits on helmets — can create a significant difference compared to the protective sports helmets on the market today, which are largely designed to absorb shock from direct linear hits and force the head straight back. The fluid-filled cells within the helmet respond regardless of the angle of impact, allowing the helmet to automatically protect any part of the head.

Steps are also being made a little closer to home to better protect players from such hard hits.

On Wednesday, the West Virginia Board of Education approved new rules on how high schools handle sports concussions. Among the requirements is that a licensed health care professional clear athletes before they can return to action.

According to a report by The Associated Press, the rules require schools to provide concussion-related information to coaches, administrators, athletes and their parents, and the students and parents must sign a statement prior to the start of practice that season that they’ve read the information. Reports on suspected concussions or head injuries suffered in practice or a game must be submitted to the West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission within a month of the injury.

The legislation also requires schools to create a written procedure for recognizing injuries and then clearing athletes to return to play, including the written permission of a licensed health care professional.

“This is a significant step in how we protect all of our athletes from the short- and long-term impact of concussions,” board president Gayle Manchin said in a statement.

The new requirement comes after legislators last year passed a law requiring the SSAC to draft regulations aimed at preventing youth concussions. Among other things, they require schools to increase awareness and warn players of the risks of continuing to play after they suffer a concussion.

The new rules are vital, especially considering an October report from the Institute of Medicine and National Research Council. The nonprofit reported that the number of people ages 19 and younger who were treated in emergency rooms for concussions and other sports- or recreation-related brain injuries nationwide increased from 150,000 in 2001 to 250,000 in 2009.

The report also highlighted which sports had the highest concussion rates. For high school and college male athletes, it’s football, ice hockey, lacrosse and wrestling; among females, it’s soccer, lacrosse, basketball and ice hockey.

We know sports are an important component of many young people’s lives. The games keep them active and involved in their schools and communities.

That means any step made to keep athletes safe is a step in the right direction.