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Thursday, Aug. 4, 2011 05:24 am

Concussion? Go to the bench.

New law requires trainer’s OK before athlete resumes play


Springfield High School students practice at football camp this summer.

It was a typical evening of basketball practice in 1997 and a young A.D. Carson wanted nothing more than to be in the game. However, another player had just accidentally stepped on his head, and Carson felt pressured by his coach to stay in play, rather than go to the bench. Even though he wasn’t feeling well, Carson continued to practice.

Even now, Carson isn’t sure if the incident gave him a concussion, but he knows the incident would be treated differently if it happened today. Unlike in Carson’s day, a new law requires that student athletes showing signs and symptoms of a concussion cannot return to play, either a practice or a game, until approved by a certified athletic trainer or physician.

“You would think coaches always have the best intentions in mind, but the reality is there are those who don’t,” Carson says. “That’s why it’s good to have [the law] on paper.” Carson is now an academic athletic coach at Springfield High School.

A concussion, a type of traumatic brain injury, is “caused by a bump, blow or jolt to the head” that can change how the brain normally works, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website. A fall or blow causing the head and brain to “move quickly back and forth” can also cause a concussion.

Dr. Julie Gilchrist, pediatrician and epidemiologist for CDC’s Injury Center, says concussion prevention is key because players who have one concussion are more likely to have a second concussion.

Devin Spears, lead athletic trainer at Memorial SportsCare, which serves District 186 public schools, says the law closely follows Illinois High School Association (IHSA) recommendations. Lanphier High School and Springfield High school are each assigned to an athletic trainer at SportsCare. Springfield Southeast High School is assigned to one athletic trainer at St. John’s Hospital’s AthletiCare.

“I’ve been an athletic trainer for 22 years and the one injury that really scares me is the concussion,” Spears says.

Physical and cognitive rest allow for faster concussion recovery, and concussed players should take breaks from physical activity and mentally stimulating tasks like studying or texting, which can prove difficult for a high school student, he says.

It’s also important to understand signs and symptoms of a concussion vary from player by player, Gilchrist says.

Gilchrist says there are four categories for signs and symptoms of a concussion. Examples of these signs and symptoms include inability to retain new information, headaches, irritability or sadness, and even sleep disturbances. These vary and might show up right away or hours, even days, later.

“That’s where it’s nice to have an experienced medical provider at hand and that’s why certified athletic trainers can be so helpful because their job is to look after the well-being of the athlete and not the success of the team,” Gilchrist says.

Nick Martsch, a Springfield High School junior, says he had two minor concussions during his time playing football, and recalls struggling to study for a math test because of a concussion.

He did not return to play until approved by a physician and then learned to correct his form to avoid hitting hit his head. He hasn’t had any signs or symptoms of a concussion since.

Karen Gregory, physical education teacher at Springfield High School and athletic trainer at SportsCare, says student athletes like Martsch, who have had a concussion, receive an upgraded helmet with different technology for head protection.

However, Gilchrist says although helmets prevent serious head injuries like skull fractures, they cannot always prevent a concussion.

Gregory says it is a challenge to balance her time among the different teams, especially in the fall season, when football practice could be miles from a volleyball game. She says although she can’t be in both places at once, she is always on call.

Rick Sanders, coordinator of athletics, physical education and health at Springfield Public Schools, says SportsCare or AthletiCare often provide an additional trainer for a school, if the demand for trainers is high in a particular season.

Gilchrist says although it’s crucial for players, coaches and parents to be aware and educated, they still shouldn’t try to diagnose a concussion.

“I think coaches and players need to recognize that sometimes the best thing to do for the team is to get that player out of the game,” Gilchrist says.

Contact Hannah Douglas at hdouglas@illinoistimes.com.

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