There's no such thing as a "ding," concussion experts told Illinois school coaches, trainers and administrators Wednesday in preparation for state legislation aimed at preventing affected young athletes from resuming play too soon.
Head blows used to be shrugged off as no big deal in sports, and players at all levels were encouraged to tough them out. But resuming sports too soon can raise the risk of permanent brain damage, so athletes, parents, and everyone involved in school sports needs to know about concussion symptoms, doctors emphasized at an awareness-raising symposium at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago.
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"Ding" is a misnomer; "it's a traumatic brain injury," Dr. Hunt Batjer said at the meeting. Batjer is chair of neurosurgery at Northwestern and co-chair of the National Football League's head, neck and spine committee.
Players who suffer head blows or other impact that causes the head to suddenly jerk may still have concussions even if they don't lose consciousness. Symptoms may be as subtle as headaches, feeling momentarily dazed, forgetting a play, and even sleep problems. But they should not be ignored, experts told about 100 school coaches, trainers and others from around Illinois gathered at the meeting.
Gov. Pat Quinn was scheduled to sign legislation Thursday at Soldier Field in Chicago requiring student athletes with concussions to get medical approval before resuming play, a spokeswoman said. The legislation affects elementary through high school athletes, and also requires education for coaches, parents, referees and players about concussion symptoms.
Several other states have enacted similar laws.
Hall of Famer Dan Hampton told the symposium that he embraces the Illinois measure, and that student athletes should, too.
The former Bears defensive lineman said he suffered a few concussion-like symptoms in his career, but didn't report them. In those football days, "the more barbaric it was, the better," but times have changed, and young players need to police themselves, Hampton said.
Some athletic directors at the meeting said they support the Illinois measure, too, because it puts all schools on the same page, but they worry that many districts lack funding to pay for enough trained staff to monitor student athletes for concussions.
Matthew Greider, a football referee for high schools in the Effingham area, said referees often are the first to notice when players get hit in the head -- but are less qualified than others to medically evaluate them.
Greider said he predicts an increase in the number of student athletes removed from games once the legislation is enacted because referees "are definitely going to err on the side of safety."
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that about 135,000 U.S. children aged 5 to 18 are treated in emergency rooms each year for sports- and recreation-related concussions and traumatic brain injuries. Many more suffer these injuries but don't get proper treatment.
Head injuries in high-profile NFL players and destructive brain damage in some retired players have brought attention to the dangers of concussions, but experts at the symposium emphasized that concussions can happen in any sports.
Karl Costello, athletic director at Niles North High School in Skokie, said all 24 school sports activities -- including the bass fishing team -- take concussions seriously.