A state law that took effect in June will forbid young athletes from playing if a concussion is suspected. The law, which Gov. Robert Bentley signed, requires parents and coaches to learn about the dangers of concussions and doesn’t allow any youngster who might be concussed to play until he or she has received permission from a doctor. It applies to a range of athletic programs, from high school football to Little League to peewee soccer programs.
It was reported that few people even know this law was passed. Most of the 125 nurses at a workshop at Children’s Hospital in Birmingham had never heard of the new legislation. Since the new law is barely known around the state, the next year could be one of trial and error as programs work out how to inform parents, coaches, athletic trainers and others. A seminar was held in order to alert medical professionals to the requirements of the new law. Dr. Drew Davis, a professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and a pediatric rehabilitation physician who practices at Children’s Hospital of Alabama, spoke at the seminar.
UAB and Children’s Hospital are setting up a Concussion Center that will provide medical care for children and education for those who need it, including checklists on how to handle concussions. The treatment for concussions has changed in recent years, and now calls for more rest. Children who experience even mild injury should stay out of sports for about a week and then return gradually, Davis said. In addition, schools may want to consider policies such as waiving classwork or exams for students who have been concussed so their grades don’t suffer.
Although people usually heal quickly and fully after these injuries, untreated concussions or repeated trauma can lead to long-term problems with test-taking and other mental skills, according to Dr. Davis. Hospital emergency rooms in the U.S. treat about 135,000 children ages 5 to 18 with sports- and recreation-related traumatic brain injuries each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Concerned about the safety of child athletes — and the long-term effects of brain injury seen in some professional sports — the NFL and the NCAA have pushed states to pass laws like Alabama’s new law.
About 20 states have done so in the past two years. Last year, the Alabama High School Athletic Association mandated that high school athletes can’t return to practice or play until being cleared by a physician. According to doctors at Children’s, that has led to about a threefold increase in the number of concussion cases they see. Although the new state law doesn’t have a strict enforcement component, Dr. Davis said insurance companies will refuse to cover athletic facilities if programs aren’t compliant.
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