Over the past two decades a significant amount of research has surfaced regarding the potential long-term effects from concussions on the field, raising awareness about traumatic brain injury (TBI) among youth athletic programs. When my best friend in high school suffered a traumatic brain injury while playing football, I vowed to do everything I could to help others who suffered from traumatic injuries as well as their families. Every fall, when high school, college and professional football begins, my thoughts turn to my friend and I ask myself what kind of progress I’m making. Unfortunately, my answer every year is “I can do more.”
The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke defines traumatic brain injury as a sudden trauma that causes damage to the brain. The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke states that a “TBI can result when the head suddenly and violently hits an object or when an object pierces the skull and enters brain tissue.” And although awareness to help educate athletes, coaches, physicians and parents of young athletes has grown, there is still the question of how to control concussions from happening on the field.
Recent Findings, Concerns
The Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council conducted a recent study in 2013 that found high-school football players are nearly twice as twice as likely to sustain a concussion than college players. Research estimated that high-school football players suffered 11.2 concussions for every 10,000 games and practices. These statistics do not include concussions that go unreported, due to the culture among athletes to resist self-reporting injuries.
Due to the competitive nature of the game, young athletes tend to play-on after an injury, believing they would be letting their team down if they chose otherwise. The study by the Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council noted that in many cases, “Youth profess that the game and the team are more important than their individual health and that they may play through a concussion to avoid letting down their teammates, coaches, schools and parents.” Without allowing the brain to heal over time, however, these types of responses put young athletes at risk for future injuries that can yield more long-term damage to the brain.
Another factor that puts youth at a higher risk of concussions is the fact that their head and neck are disproportionately larger than the rest of their body. Neurologist Robert Cantu wrote in his book, Concussion and Our Kids, when collisions happen on the field, their underdeveloped bodies are not capable of bracing themselves for the impact.
Preventive Game Plan
According to the study by the Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council, the use of properly fitted helmets can in fact reduce the risk of head injury, such as skull fracture, but the role it plays in traumatic brain injury prevention has yet to be confirmed. Therefore, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends creating an action plan to ensure that concussions are identified early and managed correctly. For instance, the Illinois High School Association (IHSA) has implemented House Bill 200, which requires Illinois High School Association members to adopt a concussion policy regarding student concussion and head injuries that is in compliance with the protocols, policies, and by-laws of the IHSA (Provided below are some links to relevant policies and resources from IHSA).
Awareness is the Goal
While studies continue to provide useful insight, much remains unknown about the extent of concussions in youth, which is why it is important to implement education, awareness and prevention on and off the field. While Romanucci & Blandin continues to take action to prevent traumatic brain injuries from occurring, we also represent many families that have experienced this type of trauma first-hand. To learn more about how to prevent a ways to prevent, visit the following organizations, websites for more information:
Center for Disease Control and Prevention
Illinois High School Association Concussion Policies and Resources
- IHSA Protocols for NFHS Concussion Playing Rule
- IHSA Return To Play Policy
- NFHS Concussion Course
- NFHS position statement
- Heads Up: Concussion in HS sports
- NEW IHSA Sports Medicine Acknowledgement & Consent Form (Concussion, PES, Asthma Medication)
Antonio Romanucci is the founding chairman of the Brain Injury Clubhouse and is an executive of the Traumatic Brain Injury Litigation Group serving as Board Liaison to the Brain Injury Association.