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Young athletes need advocates for prevention of concussions

During the last few years in medical and media discussions an interest in concussion and its implications for our youth has increased.

Locally, a recent visit by an invited speaker brought in by Washington State University has stimulated many in the medical community to further evaluate concussion education and programs. I recently attended the annual Pac-12 medical meetings and concussion was the topic of focus. Our region is fortunate to have several of the world’s leading concussion experts, such as Stan Herring, M.D., who led the effort to pass the nation’s first concussion law in our state. This law has become the model for our country’s youth. However, as we learn more the information suggests further changes and education are necessary.

Concussions in our youth are common. Medically, we know that an adolescent who sustains a concussion is at an increased risk for repeat injury and possibly long-term loss of brain function. Concussions in those under 18 often have a prolonged recovery.

The idea of a hit count much like a pitch count in baseball is becoming popular. Kasee Hildenbrand, Ph.D., and the team of researchers here in Pullman have shown that the forces in our young football and soccer players often approach or exceed those seen at the collegiate level. This is biomechanically due to the head on an adolescent often acting in a similar fashion to a bobblehead.

Post injury, the brain of an adolescent and teenager acts and recovers differently than those of a 21-year-old. The long-term implications such as learning disabilities, cognitive and behavioral changes and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) are still being defined. These implications are not going away.

Our kids cannot and will not protect themselves. A 2013 study shows that 40 percent of youth will not tell a coach if they know they have signs or symptoms of a traumatic brain injury. In the NFL, specialized video equipment with medical personnel is being used to evaluate concussions on the field. Our kids’ sports will never have these resources on a wide scale, but we can advocate to protect them.

Many advocate for no striking with the head in soccer until age 14 or 15. Several concussion experts, such as Bob Cantu, M.D., are recommending no tackle football in those under age 14. My father, an educator and football coach, did this and it produced three scholarship football players. We played flag football.

As a medical professional I think this is a reasonable thing to consider and have applied it to my own children. I think we should push for these types of changes. I write this in hope that it will stimulate discussion in our community about best practices for our kids. I think it is time to consider some changes.

Dr. Tingstad, a former player at Washington State, is the WSU team physician.