Jan 29, 2015
Concussions in Congress

By Mike Phelps

Concussions are again making headlines across the country. Just this past week, a congressional hearing in Washington, D.C. is exploring the impact concussions have on high school student-athletes, while a new report found problems with the way the injuries are reported at the high school level.

The report, released Thursday by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), found that three national databases keeping track of concussions among high school athletes all underestimate the problem. According to the report, concussions occur among high schoolers with alarming frequency, but it’s impossible to know precisely how often, due to gaps in how the injuries are reported.

The GAO also said that only Texas, Oregon, and Washington have enacted laws that tackle the issue in a meaningful way. Oregon and Texas require athletes to be removed from play the day of the injury, while Washington gives coaches responsibility for removal.

Connecticut has taken steps toward joining that list, however. A new state law, which will go into effect July 1, requires coaches to keep athletes off the field for games and practices if they show any signs of concussion. The athlete can’t return to play until a doctor says all is well.

Coaches who fail to follow the law risk losing their coaching permit in the state. Also, as part of the law, coaches will be required to take a training class on the signs and symptoms of a concussion prior to the beginning of the upcoming fall season.

Concussions have also been a hot topic on Capitol Hill recently, as a congressional hearing was held to discuss the impact of concussions on high school athletes–both on the field and in the classroom. The Concussion Clinic at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Ohio estimates 400,000 concussions occurred among 7.5 million student athletes who participated in high school sports during the 2008-09 school year.

Among those who testified before the House Committee on Education and Labor was Sarah Rainey, a 14 year-old who suffered a concussion while playing soccer for West Potomac High School in Alexandria, Va., five weeks ago. Rainey spoke about her troubles in the classroom since suffering her injury.

“I sometimes now have to use a calculator to do simple arithmetic–it takes me three times as long to do anything,” she said. “Even when my head is not pounding, I always feel like I am wearing a compression headband.”

Much of the session centered on female athletes, who studies have indicated are more prone to concussions than males. Michelle Pelton, 19, a former high school athlete in Massachusetts, echoed Rainey’s sentiments.

“While all my classmates were involved in senior activities, I was home depressed and in constant pain, and life had become a blur,” she said. “Every day I endure memory loss, lack of concentration, depression, slow processing speed and cognitive effects that make my everyday life a battle.”

In addition to problems in the classroom, a study recently published by the Journal of the American Medical Association found that people who experience concussions are nearly eight times more likely to suffer from depression in the year following their injury than the general population.

Mike Monacelle, Athletic Director and Head Football Coach at Caledonia-Mumford High School in Caledonia, N.Y., also spoke at the congressional hearing. In 2006, Monacelli implemented ImPACT testing for athletes in the Caledonia school district before expanding the program to include all sixth, eighth, and 10th grade students the following year.

“I think what you are going to see is that it’s going to become a mandate,” Monacelli told the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle. “It’s just crazy not to do it, to help make our kids safer.”

Mike Phelps is an Assistant Editor at Training & Conditioning.

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