Concussions, Sports, and the Law: An Overview

Concussions in Sports: The Facts
A concussion is a type of traumatic brain injury caused by a bump, hit or jolt to the head that interferes with normal brain functions. Concussions can also occur by a blow to the body that causes the head to move rapidly back and forth. A concussion is a type of traumatic brain injury (TBI) and is serious. A person with a concussion usually does not lose consciousness. It is important to respond properly to a concussion to prevent further injury, including permanent brain damage and death.

football.jpgConcussions can happen in any sport or recreational activity. Each year, emergency rooms treat 173,285 sports and recreation-related TBIs (including concussions) among children and adolescents. In the past 10 years, emergency room visits for sports and recreation-related TBIs among children increased by 60 percent. Activities most associated with TBIs (and concussions) were bicycling, football, playground activities, basketball and soccer. Of all the TBI emergency room visits related to sports and recreational activities, 70.5 percent of them were among people ages 10-19. In addition, 71 percent of these visits were by males.

Signs of a Concussion in an Athlete

There are two major things parents and coaches should watch for among athletes to determine if he or she has a concussion. First, parents and coaches should have observed or heard about an athlete receiving a sudden bump, jolt or bump to the head that caused the athlete’s head to move quickly. Second, parents and coaches should look for changes in an athlete’s thinking, behavior or physical functioning. Athletes who are suspected of having a concussion should not return to play until evaluated by a health care professional. Sometimes, symptoms of a concussion do not occur until hours or even days after the initial injury.

In many cases, athletes who have a concussion will report having a headache or a feeling of pressure in the head. They may feel nauseous and begin to vomit. Athletes who have had a concussion may feel dizzy and have blurry vision. They may be sensitive to light and noise and have difficulty with their memory. Coaches and parents may observe that an athlete appears stunned or dazed. They may also note that they athlete gets confused about game instructions and may be unsure of the score or opponent.

What to Do If an Athlete Gets a Concussion

If a parent or coach suspects that an athlete has a concussion, the first thing they should do is to remove the athlete from the game. Second, the athlete should be evaluated by a health care professional to determine the severity of the injury. The athlete should be kept out of play until a health care professional determines that it’s safe for the athlete to return to the game. A repeat concussion that occurs before the brain has time to heal can slow recovery and result in brain swelling (edema), brain damage and even death.

The Law and Concussions in Sports

In 2009, the state of Washington passed the Zachery Lystedt Law, the first concussion in sports law in the country. Two months later, Oregon passed a similar bill. Between 2009 and 2012, 43 states, including New York, and the District of Columbia passed laws regarding concussions and sports. These laws, often referred to as Return to Play Laws, focus on three main areas. First, they focus on educating coaches, parents and athletes about concussions. Second, the laws require athletes to be removed from play if they are suspected of having a concussion. Third, the laws require that athletes not return to play for 24 hours and that they be evaluated by a health care professional before they can return to a game.

A concussion is a type of brain injury and is serious. Therefore, it is important for parents, athletes and coaches to become educated about the injury to prevent them from happening and to respond appropriately when they do occur.

To learn more about concussions and sports-related brain injury, visit the Centers for Disease Control website by clicking here.

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