High school football kicks off on campuses across Southern Nevada this week.
And, with the new season comes new concerns about concussions. It also brings a question to the minds of many parents – Is the sport safe?
Jim Porter, the head trainer for the Clark County School District, told KNPR's State of Nevada that 11 years ago the district changed its policy when it comes to concussions.
“We introduced serial evaluation for concussions in which the athletic trainer will determine whether or not they may have a concussion, then they have to be seen by a medical physician...once they’re cleared by they have to take the impact test, which is a cogitative test to determine when they’re ready to go back to school,” Porter said.
From there, more tests are performed with an emphasis on making sure the student is well enough to return to class, not the field.
Since the new rules were put into place, the district has not dealt with any cases of second-impact syndrome or post-concussive syndrome both of which occur when a brain that has been damaged by a concussion is hurt again before it has had time to properly heal.
Concussions can be tricky, according to Dr. Charles Bernick, the associate medical director at the Cleveland Clinic Lour Ruvo Center for Brain Health.
“In some sense, what we really don’t know is whether it's worse to have one severe concussion or do these little ones add up over time there is evidence that that maybe the case,” Dr. Bernick said.
Many people do not realize that concussions include any short-lived impairment to the brain, which could mean having a your "bell wrung" or being dazed by a blow to the head.
Bernick said concussions have different impacts depending on the age of the patient.
“We know younger kids may actually have a different response to head trauma and there is some disturbing evidence that it might have long-term effects later in life," he said. “It's probably better for students to play flag football or non-contact sports at least until they get up to the high-school age after that there is not strong evidence that age makes a difference.”
It is not just age but also the number of times an athlete is hit, he said.
Porter explained that improvements in equipment has helped, like new football helmets that absorb energy instead of just preventing skull and jaw fractures.
He also said that football players are being taught a new way to tackle.
“The biggest change is that our football coaches have gone to what’s called the Hawk Method or the Seahawk Tackling Method, some people call it the rugby tackling method, in which they’re taking the head out of tackling,” Porter said.
However, both Porter and Bernick agree that there is no such thing as 100 percent safe equipment or tackling. Porter said there are often more head injuries in women's soccer than football, proportionally.
“We’re starting to see rough play in several sports,” he said.
Bernick said that concussions are caused by the head moving, which puts just about every athlete at risk.
“Any sport where you’re exposed to repetitive blows to the head there remains a risk of concussion,” he said.
Bernick believes they need more study to know exactly what happens when someone suffers a concussion, the impact they have on developing brains, how long it truly takes to recover and the long-term impacts.
“I think as we learn more about concussion and its effect both in the short term and long term then we’ll be able to apply policies that will hopefully protect students a bit more,” Bernick said.
Dr. Charles Bernick, associate medical director at the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health. Jim Porter, head trainer for the Clark County School District.
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