The NFL has reached a $765 million settlement over concussion-related brain injuries among its 18,000 retired players, agreeing to compensate victims and pay for medical monitoring. Although the NFL has admitted no liability, the settlement is a tacit admission that the league handled concussed players improperly for many years, leading to permanent injuries and deaths.
At Koskoff, we know that the important safety issue of concussion-related brain injury goes well beyond the NFL. There are 3.8 million concussions in the United States per year during competitive sports and recreational activities, many of them in children. While concussions occur in all sports, the highest incidence is in football, hockey, rugby, soccer and basketball. The NFL settlement is yet another reminder that sports-related concussions need to be taken seriously by parents, coaches and school officials.
Parents should require their children to undergo ImPACT cognitive testing at the beginning of each sports season. ImPACT testing is widely available, takes about 20 minutes, and can serve as a valuable cognitive baseline for health professionals in the event of a concussion.
Further, parents, coaches and school officials should be aware of the most up-to-date recommendations from experts with respect to return to play decisions. There is an emerging international consensus outlined in the Zurich return-to-play protocol, available here: http://www.sportconcussions.com/html/Zurich%20Statement.pdf
The most important recommendation from the Zurich consensus is that any suspected concussion symptoms must be fully evaluated by a health care provider immediately. The athlete must be sidelined until this assessment is complete.
Symptoms of concussion (which may not be immediately apparent) include:
- Somatic (e.g. headache), cognitive (e.g. feeling like in a fog) and/or emotional symptoms
- Physical signs (e.g. loss of consciousness, amnesia)
- Behavioral changes (e.g. irritability)
- Cognitive impairment (e.g. slowed reaction times)
- Sleep disturbance (e.g. drowsiness).
Appropriate return-to-play decisions are crucial as there is mounting evidence that the brain remains particularly vulnerable to further and permanent injury during the post-concussive period.
Further information on the connection between concussion and brain injury and what you can do to keep children safe can be found at the website of the Brain Injury Alliance of Connecticut: http://biact.homestead.com/