Jan 29, 2015
Concussion Updates

By Mike Phelps

A new study indicates that performing preseason baseline cognitive tests in groups is less accurate than doing the tests individually for each athlete. The research, performed by Summer Ott of the Methodist Hospital Concussion Center in Houston and her colleagues, was just one piece of concussion news in the headlines recently.

The researchers compared scores from high schoolers who took one type of computer-based test–designed to measure attention and memory skills, as well as processing speed and reaction time–individually with students who took it in a school computer lab with up to 19 teammates. They found that the 164 teens who took the test in groups scored lower than the 167 who did it without any distracting peers.

The findings may indicate that athletic trainers need to use their own judgment, not just a test score, to decide when athletes can return to play.

“It’s not as simple as a young athlete taking a 25-minute test and then they get a concussion and then somebody can look at a score and they get a red light or a green light,” Paul Comper, a concussion expert at the University of Toronto who was not involved in the new research, told Reuters Health.

Another study, by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), released Thursday, found that emergency room visits for sports and recreation-related brain injuries, such as concussions, among young people have increased by 60 percent in the last decade. From 2001 to 2009, the number of injuries rose from 153,375 to 248,418 nationwide.

Males were most often injured playing football or bicycling, while most female injuries were sustained while bicycling, or while playing soccer or basketball. The researchers believe the primary reason for the increase is that more adults made the determination that the young person needed to be seen by a doctor.

The CDC is also hard at work to study and develop national guidelines for managing sports-related concussions for student-athletes. That announcement was made by a pair of New Jersey lawmakers, U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez and Rep. Bill Pascrell, who had previously sponsored legislation (which passed in the House but stalled in the Senate) that would have made such protocols mandatory.

Pascrell said that 41 percent of student-athletes who suffer concussions return to play too soon, often with serious consequences. The CDC will convene a panel of experts to define the scope of the protocol, review existing literature, and have protocols ready for distribution by the Fall of 2014.

In New York, Senator Charles E. Schumer recently visited Maryvale High School in Cheektowaga to lobby for new legislation that would improve helmet safety in football. Called the Children’s Sports Athletic Equipment Safety Act, the bill would ensure football helmets meet new safety standards to protect young players from concussions. According to Schumer, there are currently no federal guidelines to test a helmet’s ability to withstand forces that cause concussions.

“If enacted, this will mark the biggest leap in helmet safety since we abandoned the leather helmet,” Schumer told the Buffalo News.

On the college level, a pair of former football players–former University of Central Arkansas receiver Derek K. Owens and former Northwestern University lineman Alex Rucks–filed a class-action lawsuit against the NCAA, which accuses the association of neglecting to protect student-athletes from concussions.

The suit was filed by Hagens Berman, a leading class-action law firm. It alleges the NCAA turns a blind eye to teaching players correct tackling techniques, has failed to establish an NCAA-wide system for screening head injuries, and avoids its financial obligations to injured student-athletes who need medical treatment after they’ve left college. The lawsuit would force the NCAA to institute a medical monitoring program to track the long-term effects of head trauma in former football players and pay for any resulting medical care.

“The NCAA system is a cash cow that generates $750 million in revenue each year without having to pay student-athletes a dime,” Steve Berman, the attorney representing the players and managing partner of Hagens Berman, told Business Wire. “These athletes are the ones paying the price–with their health.”

Another college football player, Nolan Brewster, a safety at the University of Texas, recently decided to quit the sport due to concussions and post-traumatic migraine headaches. Brewster had a history of concussions dating back to high school and suffered another one this season in the Longhorns’ victory over UCLA on Sept. 17.

“It was probably the toughest decision I’ve had to make so far in my life, but I think at the end of the day, it’s the right one,” Brewster said. “It’s difficult because I love football and playing for Texas, but I know in my heart this is the right thing to do. I just know I can’t keep playing worrying about this continuing to get worse and knowing that I’m risking my long-term quality of life.”

Texas Head Coach Mack Brown spoke out in support of Brewster’s decision. Brewster played in 30 career games, recording 35 tackles and one interception.

“We’re disappointed for Nolan, and I know it was a really difficult decision for him and his family,” Brown said. “I’ve known him since he was a little kid and know he loves this place and playing football for Texas, so this is a tough deal, but his health is the most important thing. He’s a smart young man with a bright future.”

Mike Phelps is an Assistant Editor at Training & Conditioning.

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