Prevention is on the mind as sports organizations and healthcare professionals rally to protect athletes, young and seasoned, from the devastating effects of sports concussions. An uptick in news coverage, spurred by a high-profile class-action lawsuit against the National Football League, propelled the issue into the public arena. With awareness at an all-time high, discussions on the prevention of concussions offer a world of insight on how to approach your patients from the sideline of medicine.
The Fourth International Conference on Concussion in Sport convened in the fall of 2012 in Zurich. Its findings include numerous recommendations for preventing and treating concussions. The panel of top experts found no evidence to support the widely held belief that protective gear prevents concussions. Instead, experts believe that prevention should emphasize critical measures such as rule changes, the elimination of hard impacts like body checking in youth leagues, and the role of referees.
Similarly, an ABC News report detailed changes to the American Academy of Neurology’s guidelines on sports concussions, which took into account a body of research that spans fifty-plus years. Most significantly, the recently updated guidelines place priority on prevention. On the matter of treating concussions, the academy advises possibly concussed athletes be pulled out of the game at the first sign of trouble and undergo a thorough examination by medical personnel. Healthcare providers should also recommend a slow reentry onto the playing field. This helps reduce the risk of sustaining another concussion, which is greatest in the first ten days after injury. Given the long-term consequences associated with multiple impacts to the head, healthcare professionals and their patients should err on the side of caution. For youth athletes, who take longer to heal, these guidelines are critical to preventing repeat injuries.
Nurses are also taking a stance on sports concussions and prevention—one that involves education. As reported in the Nurse.com article, “Recognize Sports Concussions to Minimize Long-Term Damage,” any sport incurs the risk of a concussion, but changing how the game is played and educating the public on head injuries can help prevent incidences. As a nurse, athletic trainer, physician, or other healthcare expert, initiating a conversation about sports concussions will help professional athletes and parents of younger players make an informed decision on what preventive measures they want to take. Educating patients on the serious implications of sports concussions, which include mental side effects requiring lifelong treatment by a sports psychologist, can help promote an active stance on prevention.
These new guidelines may eventually be supplemented by findings from game-changing research. The NFL, General Electric, and other notable companies have teamed up to donate $60 million toward the advancement of brain research, $20 million of which is earmarked for sports concussions, including prevention. For the moment, though, the consensus among experts is that the prevention of concussions begins with your advisement and happens on the field.
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