Only 31 percent of Massachusetts high schools and middle schools complied last year with a state law mandating reporting on student athlete concussions. State officials are hoping for greater compliance when new figures come due August 31.
In 2010, Massachusetts passed a law aimed at identifying and preventing concussions among student athletes. Under the law, 689 public and private schools were required to report data for the 2011-2012 academic year. However, only 213 schools submitted figures, and those figures showed that 3,450 students had suffered a head injury or suspected concussion in sports. The figures were recently reported in The Boston Globe.
To encourage reporting this year, the state has changed its form to make deadlines appear more prominent and provide definitions for data.
A concussion is a mild traumatic brain injury caused by a force to the head, such as a fall or car accident. Symptoms typically include headaches, dizziness and memory problems. Left untreated, it can result in long-term brain impairment. In recent years, focus has been on preventing concussions in sports at every level, from the National Football League (NFL) to high schools down to Pop Warner football leagues.
Massachusetts is one of 47 states which have passed so-called “return to play” laws since 2009. The state of Washington passed the first concussion in sports law in 2009.
The Massachusetts sports concussion law requires students, parents and coaches to receive annual training to recognize the signs of a concussion. Students who sustain a concussion are required to sit out and obtain a doctor’s written permission to return to the game.
As a final step, schools must report figures to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH). Public schools and those subject to the rules of the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA) must comply with the law.
Sports and recreational activities cause 3.8 million concussions each year in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). When an athlete suffers a concussion, they become at risk for suffering another one. Proper rest is important, and teenagers, along with older adults and young children, are believed to have longer recovery periods.
If you are the parent of a student athlete, summer is a good time to learn about the law. Ask your child’s coach when the school will hold concussion training sessions. You can also read a summary of the Massachusetts sports concussion law.
State revises concussion reporting after weak response from schools, The Boston Globe.
In a new study, Boston University School of Medicine researchers autopsied the brains of deceased athletes who suffered repeated concussions and found the majority showed signs of a degenerative brain disorder called chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).
The researchers autopsied 85 deceased brain donors, including 82 athletes. This included 34 professional football players. Researchers found a buildup of an abnormal brain protein called tau in 68 brain donors. By contrast, they autopsied 18 brains with no known trauma and found no protein buildup. Tau is associated with CTE, a degenerative condition linked to memory loss, depression and dementia.
The autopsies found the most extensive brain damage in the professional athletes who died after age 50. They experienced the most severe memory loss and personality changes in their final years.
The football players included National Football League (NFL) Hall of Famers running back Ollie Matson and Colts tight end John Mackey. Both died last year after suffering from dementia.
The researchers also described the four stages of CTE. In the first stage, the injured individual experiences headaches and trouble concentrating. Symptoms progress to depression, aggression and short-term memory loss, followed by serious cognitive impairment and dementia.
Last spring, more than 3,000 former players filed a lawsuit against the National Football League, claiming the league hid information about football-related head injuries. The NFL claims the head injury lawsuits have no merit and asked a federal court in Philadelphia to dismiss more than 100 injury claims, saying they should be resolved through the NFL’s collective bargaining process rather than the courts.
Many states, including Massachusetts, have also implemented laws in recent years which mandate concussion training for high school athletes and provide rules for how long students must sit out after a head injury.
The research was reported in the journal Brain.
Boston researcers find new evidence linking concussions to permanent brain injury, The Boston Globe.
Evidence of brain damage from repeat concussions mounts, The Boston Globe.
BU-Led Research Maps the Route to Dementia, BU Today.
More than 330 students suffered head injuries and concussions last fall at 26 high schools in the region, according to a survey by The Boston Globe. This is the first time Massachusetts high schools and middle schools have been required to report injuries under a new state law.
Robert Cantu, a clinical professor of neurosurgery at Boston University School of Medicine, told theGlobe that football is the leading cause of head injuries among student high school athletes nationwide. He estimated that for every concussion recognized in football, 6 to 8 go unreported.
Concussions are a brain injury which can result when student athletes are struck in the head, collide with each other or engage in unsafe play. One recent study has documented how excessively heading the ball in soccer causes trauma to the brain as well. Symptoms can include headache, nausea, dizziness and confusion. Concussions have the best chance for recovery when given proper rest.
In 2010, Massachusetts passed a new law aimed at preventing concussions among high school athletes and protecting them from long-term injury. Since last September, students, parents and coaches have been required to receive annual training on recognizing and treating concussions; students who sustain concussions must obtain medical clearance before returning to play. Schools must report the number of injuries to the state Department of Public Health.
The 26 schools reported 338 head injuries. Marshfield and Newton South high schools reported the largest number of head injuries, followed by Lexington, Duxbury and Wakefield. Some coaches in these districts say the higher numbers reflect the community’s work to educate students and parents.
Some schools have gone beyond the requirements of the law and are utilizing ImPACT testing, a computerized cognitive test used to help evaluate whether a student is ready to return to the field. Some school districts are providing free physicals and staffing a doctor at every football game.
Finally, some athletic directors report their coaches are focusing on safe playing techniques while others are seeking new football helmets for players.
- Massachusetts Concussion Law
- Massachusetts Baseball Safety
- Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association