Athletic concussion contention continues
Published: Tuesday, February 12, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, February 12, 2013 02:02
Although football season has ended, the long-term debates and potential lawsuits pertaining to concussions among athletes rage on.
Recent seasons in particular have been filled with controversies concerning football player protection and the significance of concussions.
Many changes have been made to increase player safety, such as enhanced helmet technology, alterations to game play and a keener sideline eye on behalf of teams’ medical staff. However, the university’s Head Athletic Trainer John Smith says he is not sure how much of an effect those improvements will have in the long run.
“I just don’t think the [helmet] design is there yet and I am not sure it ever will get there,” Smith says. “It might be rule changes that are going to make the most dramatic changes in concussions—that’s when the real effect will show.”
Smith also says concussions are not a problem here and athletes return to play only after following the appropriate guidelines, he says. If anyone is still showing any symptoms associated with concussions, they will not be allowed to play, Smith says, and according to the Mayo Clinic, these symptoms can include dizziness, problems concentrating and temporary memory loss.
Tamerah Hunt, a professor of clinical health and rehabilitation sciences at Ohio State University, stated in an email message that she thinks there is some pressure for athletes to return to play before they are ready, but education and legislation are improving this.
The fear of long-term side effects can also stop athletes from pushing as hard and putting themselves at risk, Hunt says, and coaches and officials are changing their mindset as they learn more about the issue.
Hunt says she agrees with Smith and while studies have shown helmets can decrease the force transmitted to the brain, any thought they can truly prevent concussions is not supported.
Jimmy Baxter, a freshman who sustained a head injury while playing football for his high school when he was hit in the back of the helmet during a play and blacked out, says he was not required to take any type of cognitive test in order to get back on the field.
“It felt like 10 seconds or so, but my friends told me it was closer to three or four minutes,” Baxter says. “I felt kind of dazed for a couple days afterwards, but not much changed. I just started playing again when I felt better.”
Although rule changes have helped lower worse injuries, reports of football-related concussions do not seem to decrease, Hunt says. She says there needs to be a better job done of both teaching players the correct tackling technique as well as in reporting concussions when they do occur for changes to be made in the sports world.
On the soccer side of things, director of athletic training education Thomas Kaminski says the university is conducting research among college soccer athletes to discover if heading a ball is creating concussive damage. Kaminski and other researchers give students a baseline test, or small examination that measures brain function in order to compare it to later tests after a player suffers a brain injury, and track all the headers the athletes perform before then administering a second baseline test after each competitive season, he says.
The study has been going on for 10 years and still continues, but Kaminski says they find students numbers have remained the same as their preliminary baseline tests over their competitive college careers. Students who already had concussions, however, tend to perform worse over time and shy away from heading the ball more, he says.
The university is also researching soccer heading among girls in the state of Delaware during high school, which is a sensitive time period, Kaminski says. While it is harder to track high school students over a competitive career, the study has been going on for 11 years and is also finding that athletes with previous concussions have worse numbers on neuropsychological tests, he says.
“At the collegiate level, not much changes,” Kaminski says. “At the high school level it could be very different because that is when their brain is still developing. We’re still trying to find if there is an issue there.”
Freshman Corey Weiner says he had a slightly different experience when he was injured during a hockey game in high school, where he sustained his initial concussion, was ordered to stay out for two weeks and became re-concussed after a month back.
Now he wears glasses and gets headaches after reading or focusing his eyes on something for too long, he says. Yet, his desire to return to hockey was more pressing, he says.
“When I had a concussion, my head felt like a bowling ball,” Weiner says “I couldn’t look at a computer screen, and my vision went down significantly in two years.”
Before his concussions, Weiner was required to take a baseline test and like most players, when he reached the same brain function level as he had prior to the injury, he was allowed to return. However, Weiner purposely performed poorly on his initial baseline test in case something happened in the future.
“I didn’t really try on my baseline test,” Weiner says. “I knew that if I got a concussion, I wouldn’t be able to reach my normal test score, so I just made my score low so that even if I was injured, I’d be able to play.”
He does not regret the decision to lie about his baseline score, he says, and if given the chance, he would do it over again.
Yet Weiner is not the only one who has done this as Hunt says it is common for players to lie about symptoms and lie on pre-tests. She says work from concussion expert Michael McCrea reveals that 53 percent of athletes do not report symptoms and injuries and11 percent of athletes purposely perform poorly on baseline testing.