September 12, 2010 in Idaho Voices

Head injuries taken seriously in teen sports

Patty Hutchens
 

It was a little over two years ago when the caller ID on my phone told me immediately something was wrong. It was the coach of my son’s soccer team. They were traveling in Europe, and when my phone rang it was the middle of the night in Italy – a sign that there was not good news on the other end.

My then 13-year-old son, a goalie, had been injured in a game. He had been kicked in the head, momentarily knocked unconscious, was confused and had been admitted to an Italian hospital to undergo tests. The repercussions of the head injury – which included occasional stuttering – lasted several weeks.

He suffered another blow to the head in February 2009. While the doctors were not sure if he suffered an actual concussion, the result was an injured neck that required several weeks of physical therapy. When he was finally able to return to play, he experienced symptoms such as dizziness, double vision and uncontrollable shaking of his right arm and lower lip following exertion. After several weeks of tests with no answers, we traveled to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, where he was diagnosed with a migraine disorder brought on by exercise. Now on medication to control his symptoms, he is able to fully exert himself without any side effects.

It was a scary time, and the uncertainty of the long-term effects of his injuries motivated me to research head injuries.

It was then that I discovered just how severe a concussion can be to young athletes. The more I learned, the more I encouraged other soccer goalies to wear helmets designed specifically to protect goalkeepers.

In the last year there has been extensive news reports about athletes who have lifelong problems due to concussions suffered during their high school, college or professional careers.

And recently there have been reports that there may be a link between multiple concussions and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis – also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Because of the increased attention given to concussions and their potential long-term effects, the Idaho Legislature introduced a bill earlier this year which was signed by Gov. Butch Otter on April 11 that requires the State Board of Education to post guidelines on its website about the risks of returning to play too soon after suffering a concussion.

The Board of Education’s home page provides a link to an informative website – www.knowconcussion.org – which contains extensive information on concussions including steps that should be taken before returning to play, the importance of making objective concussion assessments, and the danger of multiple concussions.

According to Tom Albertson, Sandpoint High School’s assistant principal of activities and athletics, the Idaho High School Activities Association also requires schools to inform parents of the risk of concussions in athletic activities.

“Sandpoint High School gave each parent a copy of this statement from the IHSAA at our sports registrations. In addition each coach must take a video course called ‘Concussions in Sports – What You Need to Know,’ ” said Albertson.

Fortunately for Sandpoint athletes, coaches are not stopping at just making information more readily available – they are also requiring each student participating in contact sports such as football and soccer to take a baseline assessment.

ImPACT concussion testing, which is done online, takes about 30 minutes to complete and provides a pre-concussion cognitive baseline. In the event a student suffers a concussion, the young athlete will be required to retake the test and the results will be compared with their baseline assessment. The outcome will determine whether the athlete can return to play.

“Sandpoint High School along with several other schools in the Inland Empire League chose to buy this test and have a baseline on as many athletes as possible,” said Albertson.

While Sandpoint boys varsity soccer coach Adam Tajan has not used the test before, he says it will be helpful when dealing with head injuries – something that is inherent in soccer.

“We’ve been in situations where student athletes were injured and any additional information on the status of the athlete would have been useful,” said Tajan. “It seems like we’ve done a good job in the last few years of being aware and educated about the potential seriousness of a head injury.”

Sandpoint High School football coach Mike Mitchell agreed that it is wise to take the extra step and require his players to take the ImPACT test. He adds that during his many years of coaching he has always erred on the side of caution.

“We’re trying to be ahead of the game,” said Mitchell.

Contact correspondent Patty Hutchens by e-mail at pattyhutchens@yahoo.com.


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