High School Football and Concussions

July 31, 2007

(Sports Overtime) -- It can happen in the blink of an eye.

One second your running, tackling, or blocking. The next, you're leaving the field in a ambulance because you've just suffered a concussion.

"Its a very serious issue," says Knoxville Orthopedic Clinic physician Chris Klenck. "It gets more and more attention because we learn more and more about concussions every year."

The numbers are mind boggling. One report by the National Center for Injury Prevention found that 47 percent of high school players suffer a concussion each season. 35 percent of players say they had more than one concussion in the same season.

"Concussions are actually a little bit more concerning in the younger athlete because their brains are still developing and sometimes they don't bounce back as quickly as some of the professional athletes." Klenck says.

Most high school coaches are educated as to how to handle an injury situation, and many schools have trainers on hand during practices.

Harriman High School head coach Travis Trapp takes the extreme cautious approach. "Any kid that we think has a head injury, they're done. They're sitting out of practice until we can get them checked out and cleared by a doctor. It boils down to this, they're kids, it's a game and we're gonna do safety first."

Trapp added that they also use more expensive helmets at Harriman. A helmet that has an inflatable chin-strap, making it very tight to the head. Since switching to those helmets, Trapp says he hasn't seen as many head injuries.

But most concussions at the prep level go unreported to athletic trainers, and when they are reported, Klenck says it can sometimes be a difficult decision as to when to clear the student-athlete for play.

"The most important thing we try to identify if an athlete can go back and play or not. That's the first thing we want. Most athletes are anxious to get back and play, and want that to happen as soon as possible. So the hard part is deciding who can play and who can't. So what we try to do is develop a protocol that all of us can use to make the same decisions in terms of whether or not a they can return to play on the day of a head injury or not."

To educate players, parents, and coaches about the risks of concussions, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has published a free tool kit called: "Heads Up: Concussions in High School Sports." You can find it available on cdc.gov, then click on Head's Up.

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