Throughout the past decade, every state in America has passed their own form of regulations aimed at protecting young athletes from concussions. Now, one of the first studies to examine these regulations says they are working.
According to the report published in the American Journal of Public Health, these regulations have led to a significant decrease in the number of repeated concussions in high school athletes.
The laws across the nation vary in strength. Some require longer assessment and recovery periods after a concussion, while others place more emphasis in placing experienced professionals on the field to spot injuries as they happen. However, the most common feature of these regulations requires teams to remove concussed players from the field until they have reached a level of recovery.
To assess the effectiveness of state concussion protocols, a team of researchers from the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, Temple University’s Beasley School of Law, and the Colorado School of Public Health at the University of Colorado examined data from LawAtlas and the High School Report Injury Online between the 2005-2006 and 2015-2016 academic years.
The researchers parsed this data to evaluate the statistical association between when the state laws were implemented and concussion rates among high school athletes. Specifically, the team focused on athletes participating in nine common high school sports: boys’ football, basketball, soccer, baseball, and wrestling; and girls’ basketball, soccer, softball, and volleyball.
While the overall findings suggest the laws have worked to reduce concussion rates among young athletes, the researchers note that the effect is not immediate. They found that concussion rates actually increase in the time leading up to the laws’ implementation and in the year immediately afterward.
“This is what we expected to see,” explained Jingzhen Yang, Ph.D., MPH, the study’s lead author and principal investigator at the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children’s. “Most TBI laws require athletes, athletic trainers, and/or coaches to report all suspected and/or actual TBIs and concussions. So what happens is that after a law is implemented you see an initial increase in concussions most likely because more people become aware of the symptoms and signs of concussion. Many concussions that were going unreported or undiagnosed before are finally starting to get reported and diagnosed.”
Over time, however, those rates dropped as teams were able to identify and proactively protect concussed players.
In addition to this new information, the report also reinforced past studies about the different concussion rates among male and female athletes.
“We don’t know if this is because girls, for some reason, carry a higher risk for this kind of head injury or if they are more likely to report it,” Yang said. “This is something we all have to study further.”
While football accounted for approximately half of all concussions documented in the study, female athletes faced a much higher concussion rate in gender-comparable sports.
The team also says concussions occurred more frequently during competitions rather than practice.
The findings of this study help reinforce how important these concussion protocols can be in protecting the brains of young athletes and hopefully reducing the risk for long-term concussion-related issues such as chronic traumatic encephalopathy. However, the authors note there is one area where these laws falter.
“These laws focus on recurrence and education, which is important,” she said. “But they don’t have prevention as part of the law, and that needs to be included. We need more strategies for minimizing body and head contact.”