Education Law

Concussions a Concern for Student Athletes

As kids are back at school and playing sports, parents should be on the lookout for injuries. The rate for injuries, especially sports-related concussions, is on the rise, according to several US studies.

What Is a Concussion?

A concussion is a brain injury resulting in functional problems. This traumatic injury occurs when the head gets a hard blow, which causes a shaking of the brain inside the skull.

Concussions result in an interruption of normal brain activity. While the symptoms usually go away within 7-10 days, parents should get medical care immediately for their child. Undiagnosed, concussions and brain injuries can sometimes have long-term impacts on a child's memory, learning skills and overall health. A few years ago a girl was playing, hit her head and felt fine at the time, but a few days later died from her injuries.

School Liability for Athletes' Concussions

La Salle University paid a $7 million settlement to the family of football player Preston Plevretes, who died after receiving a second concussion during play before his first concussion fully healed.

The lawsuit claimed the university didn't take steps to protect him, and coaches and staff didn't follow proper concussion guidelines and allowed him to return to play too quickly.

This lawsuit caused many changes in the way school athletics are viewed. Many institutions and the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) have updated their guidelines regarding concussions.

The NCAA now requires any athlete showing symptoms of concussion be kept from practice and play until cleared by a doctor. Schools are treating concussions more seriously and so should you as a parent, coach or athlete.

What Are the Symptoms of a Concussion?

The following are concussion symptoms, which can range from mild to severe:

  • An increasing headache
  • Not being able to move your arms or legs
  • Throwing up several times
  • A feeling of lightheadedness, confusion or possibly amnesia
  • A change in personality
  • Losing consciousness

What Should I Do if My Child's Had a Concussion?

Parents should not let their children return to playing sports during the day they suspect a concussion occurred and should be evaluated by a doctor before returning to play at all.

How Do I Treat a Concussion?

There is no medicine or specific treatment for a concussion. The only thing to do is rest and not reinjure the brain. You should restrict your child's physical and mental activity. This includes homework, reading, watching TV or playing video games. Keep track of your child's condition and look for signs of improvement or worsening of her condition. Your doctor may tell you to keep your child awake for a while after the injury even if they're tired.

If your child is an athlete who has suffered more than one concussion, medical evaluation is a must. He should take a break from all contact sports until getting medical clearance to play.

The best way to prevent injuries such as concussions is to use protective equipment, especially helmets. Helmets won't guarantee your child won't suffer a concussion. In fact the sports in which concussions most often happen include ones where headgear is worn. Make sure it's properly fitted to your child's head and other specifications are followed.

Which Sports Are Most Likely to Result in Concussions?

For organized team sports, concussions are most likely in football, basketball, soccer and ice hockey. For individual sports, most concussions have resulted from bicycling and snow skiing. Even cheerleading may cause serious injuries.

Concussions Can Cause Lasting Injury, Even Death

Coaches, parents and athletes should educate themselves on recognizing and preventing concussions. A place to learn more is the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) web site Heads Up: Concussion in Youth Sports.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • Who sets the safety standards for the helmet my high school athlete wears during sports competitions?
  • Have sports governing bodies considered changing rules to lessen the risk of head injury?
  • If I have to sign a waiver to let my child play school-sanctioned sports, can I still recover from the school if she's injured during play?
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