Every Fall, millions of football fans gather in stadiums across the country, while millions more tune in on television to cheer on their chosen teams. Bad publicity comes in the form of behavioral issues, financial greed, and competitive unbalance. One critical issue that has historically been ignored but now has reached epidemic proportions is concussion management. A concussion is a brain injury that results in disruption of brain tissue from external forces. There are varying degrees of concussions but symptoms can often result in a lack of consciousness. As athletes have grown bigger, faster, and stronger we have seen a need for equipment advances as well as more uniform guidelines for concussion diagnosis. A recurring problem at the College and Pro level involves a conflict of interest between competing interests. Too often, coaches have wanted to disregard the precautionary path and return a player to the field before it is prudent. The issue has finally begun getting the attention it deserves. In fact, a recent push to increase the NFL schedule from 16 games to 18 games has been scrapped, in no small part due to concussion concerns.
In the last 3 years the NFL has seen a 34% increase in reported concussions as new guidelines have brought more safety and prevention in to the equation. The increase in reportage shows the concussions management is being put in the hands of medical professionals where it belongs. Unfortunately as the College and Pro games have stepped up awareness of concussions, the younger age athletes still see inconsistent attention to the problem.
Over a 10 year period emergency room visits for 14-19 year olds has more than tripled. (apta.org) This has resulted in increased attention and awareness but no uniform guidelines have emerged. The APTA feels that national legislation is needed to bring consistent and clear guidelines in concussion management and treatment. Physical Therapists are uniquely suited to lead this push with their knowledge of the neurosciences, which ensures their understanding of the etiology and progression of brain injuries.
Physical Therapists are also on the front lines in dealing with our injured soldiers coming home with severe head traumas. On January 26, 2011 representative Timothy Bishop introduced H.R. 469-Protecting Student Athletes from Concussions Act of 2011. The APTA strongly supports this legislation which would bring Federal guidelines in addressing the prevention and treatment of concussions in school-aged children. The legislation would bring the latest in evidence-based treatment plans to all school districts and ensure each student-athlete is receiving the necessary care and medical decision-making needed to have a safe and healthy return to the playing field. To get more involved with HR-469 please visit http://www.apta.org/FederalIssues/.