Sports Science: Concussions

October 23, 2018

The awareness and prevention of concussions is being studied at a much higher rate as science catches up to injuries and the athletic community continues to study the harmful effects of head injuries. Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) coaches and athletes have joined the country and even world in working to educate teams about the dangers of concussions and how to identify them.  

Concussions are serious brain injuries sustained from a violent blow or shake to the head, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Symptoms include headaches, blurred vision, nausea, sensitivity to light and poor memory. While there are many reasons for concussions, sports and physical activity are some of the most common, especially for high school student athletes.

In a 2017 report from the CDC on concussions among active high school students, a National Youth Risk Behavior cross-sectional study of sampled private and public high school students found that 15.1 percent of students surveyed had suffered at least one concussion from playing a sport or being physically active. Furthermore, the more sports a student played, the greater the chance of getting a concussion.

“A study of high school athletes found that among athletes with concussions, 40 percent reported that their coach was unaware of their symptoms,” the CDC said. “Students might not always recognize or remember that they have experienced a concussion, or they might not want to report having experienced a concussion.”

Not only can concussions end athletic careers or seasons, they can also have long term or even lifelong effects. In a 2005 study by Moser, Schatz and Jordan entitled “Prolonged Effects of Concussion in High School Athletes,” it was found that athletes with recent concussions performed worse on tests of concentration and attention than non-concussed athletes, and had lower grade-point averages (GPA). It was similarly found that athletes who had been symptom-free for years after suffering multiple concussions had similar scores and GPAs to the athletes with recent concussions.

In addressing this prevalent and debilitating injury, MCPS and the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletics Association (MPSSAA) have established state and countywide rules to aid in the training of coaches, trainers and athletes, in identifying concussions, as well as in preventing them. Each one of the 25 high schools in MCPS is assigned a certified athletic trainer who is specifically trained and certified to aid in injury care and prevention.

“Athletic trainers are responsible for submitting injury data into a systemwide database for various reports required by local, state, and national agencies,” MCPS athletics specialist Kathy Green said.

RHS’ athletic trainer, Robert Kambies, attends every single sporting event that takes place at RHS and aids in injury care of athletes.

“Through injury data software, MCPS can track injuries across the county,” Kambies said. “Concussions are primarily the most carefully tracked injuries when MCPS pulls data from the information that the athletic trainers have documented.”

In addition, coaches must attend athletic trainings and get certified or recertified every year, including attending a National Federation of High Schools (NFHS) concussion seminar every two years.

“MCPS utilizes the recommendations from state and national agencies when determining health and safety policy and protocol; such as, the Department of Health and Human Services Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the National Federation of High Schools (NFHS), the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletics Association (MPSSAA), and the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE),” Green said.

A 2008 study by Rechel, Yard and Comstock, published in the Journal of Athletic Training found that athletes are more likely to be injured in games than in practice, and football, unsurprisingly, had the highest incidence of injury rate. Similarly at RHS, football players experience injuries such as concussions on a regular basis.

“You’re going to get a few concussions here and there. We’ve had a couple this season and lot of times it’s teammates that just for unfortunate reasons, are running, trying to make the same tackle and a guy moves or something and they collide,” varsity football head coach Jason Lomax said. “Or, we found that the most [concussions] we get is actually when a head hits the ground, not so much of something else. It’s when you get like that whiplash effect and it goes back.”

Injuries such as these reinforce why another established rule in concussion identification is necessary: concussion baseline testing, which MCPS implemented six years ago. Every MCPS athlete is required to take a concussion baseline test every two years, which quizzes the athlete on basic memory and attention skills which would then be used in a comparison if the athlete had a suspected concussion.

Despite these efforts in preventing head injuries in sports, high school athletes will continue to struggle with serious injuries and coaches and trainers will work to support these athletes and educate them on the dangers of concussions. These tests and support systems continue to adapt and become more beneficial as the science catches up to the injuries.

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