Protecting young athletes from concussions
9OYS Health Alert
Reporter: Corinne Hautala
TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) – The danger from athletic concussions is worse than anyone ever thought. Can new technology make a difference?
Nathan Snow is Palo Verde High School’s quarterback. He’s number seven on the field, but number one to his parents. A win for Cindy and Tim Snow is a game without injury.
“In Nathan's last game, he got hit pretty hard a helmet up under the chin,” explained his father.
His mother told 9OYS she is well aware of the potential danger especially as the quarterback.
Palo Verde’s athletic trainer and director, Bart Peterson, told 9OYS part of his job as an athletic trainer is to be on the sidelines. When a player takes a hard he it is his job to evaluate the severity.
“It is athletics and injuries happen,” stated Peterson, “So parents should be aware that injuries are going to happen.”
The Centers for Disease Control reports the level of sports-related concussions in the U.S. is at an epidemic level. Upwards of 3.8 million athletes get a concussion each year.
Football is the number one sport for concussions.
Peterson tells 9OYS it is an alarming statistic that Arizona high schools are taking notice of.
“We spend a significant amount of time bringing our policies up to date,” responded Peterson when asked if TUSD’s athletic policies were up to state standards. He went on to say, “In the last six months, or so, there was a really extensive policy statement from the National Athletic Trainer's Association that brought all of the different conditions that could effect an athlete and we took a very in-depth look at that and upgraded all of our policies here at TUSD to comply with the national standard.”
Policies won’t prevent concussions, though. Peterson admits even a trained professional can struggle to detect them.
“With a knee injury or ankle injury you can see the swelling,” Peterson stated, “But with a concussion it's a hidden injury.”
There is new technology meant to uncover concussions, including football helmets fitted with sensors. The sensors detect how hard an athlete gets hit.
Randy Cohen, the head athletic trainer for the University of Arizona, is familiar with the system. He told 9OYS it provides false security.
“You can have a very mild hit, if you're hit the wrong way, can cause a concussion,” explained Cohen.
On the same token, Cohen said an athlete can get hit very hard and not get a concussion.
Cohen said he doesn’t believe Arizona schools will purchase the system, because it is expensive to buy and maintain. He adds it is not worth the investment.
“I don't think it’s the technology. I think it’s the game,” Cohen stated. “The game needs to be taught in a more safe way.”
There are other companies developing gels and extra pads for football helmets. Doctors and experts are cautious to say they work.
“The helmets are important. We could do some really good work with helmets, but they'd be the size of a car and cars don't really protect us from concussions either,” said Peterson, “Helmets are designed to prevent fractures not concussions.”
There are things parents can do that experts say provide better protection than technology.
They recommend every child get a complete physical before playing sports; know the school’s emergency plan and make sure your child’s team has an athletic trainer.
“Just be aware of who's taking care of your kids,” said Peterson, “Make sure it is an athletic trainer or someone who is trained to take care of concussions.”
As a mother of a high school football player, Cindy Snow, told 9OYS she wouldn’t let her son play on a team without an athletic trainer.
She has also done her own research to protect her son from concussions.
"I think it is just more being aware that it can happen," she said.
Football is the top sport for concussions, followed by girls soccer and boys and girls lacrosse.