Sports, Athletes, and Brain Injuries/Concussions

Repetitive Concussions in Sports on the Rise

Part One of a Two Part Article on Sports Related Traumatic Brain Injuries by Angel Law, P.C.

Every year an estimated 300,000 cases of sports-related traumatic brain injuries (TBIs), predominantly concussions, are reported in the United States. Awareness of this serious problem is only now moving to the forefront. Of those 300,000 cases, a significant number of those athletes were found to have suffered a previous sports-related concussion. Sports are second only to motor vehicle crashes as the leading cause of TBI for young people ages 15 through 24. Current studies establish that athletes who have already suffered a previous concussion are at a much higher risk of experiencing additional concussions. This is a real problem and one that many athletic directors and coaches do not fully appreciate.

It is also estimated that between 2001-2005, at least 207,830 emergency room (ER) visits were reported annually for concussions and other sports-related TBIs. 65 % of those ER traumatic brain injuries occurred among children 5 through 18 years of age. As a result of these numbers the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have gone on to state that young people are at an increase risk for TBIs, in severity and in prolonged recovery.

But what exactly is a concussion, and how can you know if you've suffered a concussion or TBI? And what are the dangers of having a concussion; you may wonder, can't I just walk it off? More importantly, how long does a concussion last, when can you expect a full recovery? Fortunately, there are many helpful links, resources, and information about TBIs and concussions that are more easily accessible than ever. Concussions are not only more serious than many people realize but they are hard to see, often undetectable by CT or MRI scans. In their most serious form, concussions can leave you vulnerable to further concussions, permanent injury and even death.

Beginning last year, 2010-2011, Oregon has passed a new statue, ORS 336.485, which requires each school district to ensure its coaches receive annual training in recognizing the symptoms of concussions as well as training coaches in strategies to reduce the risk of concussions. In response to the new law, Oregon's Department of Education established rules, OAR 581-022-0421, to implement the statute. Both the ORS and the OAR target youth sports-related concussions by prohibiting a member/student of a sports athletic team from participating in any athletic event or training on the same day that he or she shows signs consistent with a concussion or has been diagnosed with a concussion. Specifically, these rules also prohibit a coach from allowing a member/student to return to participate in any athletic event or training until he or she ceases to exhibit signs, symptoms, or behaviors consistent with a concussion and that that member/student receives a medical release form from a health care professional.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has published an informative article entitled Nonfatal Traumatic Brain Injuries related to Sports and Recreation Activities Among Persons Aged ≤19 Years – United States, 2001-2009. The CDC reports that from 2001-2009 there was a 62% estimated increase of TBI related Emergency Room (ER) visits: 153,375 to 248,418. The number one cause of ER visits for TBI according to this study was actually for bicycle accidents with football injuries coming in a close second. The CDC concluded that the increase of ER visits for concussions could mean two things: Increased participation in sports and recreation, and/or increased awareness of concussions which has led parents and coaches to seek treatment at the hospital. For its part in promoting awareness of TBIs and concussions, the CDC has begun a Heads Up: Concussion in Youth Sports initiative. Following the link to the CDC's website reveals a wealth of information.

Unfortunately there are still athletic programs at virtually every level in schools, colleges and at the professional level, where the real danger of sports related concussions and TBI is not appreciated or guarded against. Because athletic competition has resulted in more TBIs, more precautions are necessary to protect athletes. When coaches and sports program administrators fail to protect athletes who, for instance, don't get needed neurological evaluations after an incident, a negligence claim may be an option if an avoidable injury is the result. Contact our Portland personal injury lawyers at Angel Law, P.C. for more information.