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Concussions emerge head first as growing problem

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By: Jean Wang

Graphic by: George Hwang

As a result of the rising awareness of concussions and their impacts on student athletes, the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF), the governing body of high school sports in California, has adopted a new mandate requiring all student athletes and their parent or guardian to sign a concussion and head injury information sheet in order to participate in their sport.

Through this mandate, CIF hopes to educate students about the dangers of concussions and reduce fatalities that may result from improper management of concussions.

National data has shown that many of the most serious head injuries result from athletes playing despite not fully recovering from a previously sustained concussion. While most concussions are mild, all concussions can lead to more serious complications, including death, if not properly treated. “This new policy is mainly an educational policy, to get out what concussions are and how seriously they should be taken,” athletic trainer Brien Arakaki said.

Concussions are one of the most common injuries among high school students, accounting for 15 percent of all sports related injuries reported to athletic trainers according to a study conducted in 2011. At Gunn, the ratio is much lower,  at about one in 15.  Lower numbers can be attributed to coaches’ high awareness regarding concussions, leading them to teach proper techniques for reducing risk of concussions and requiring proper safety equipment. According to Arakaki, he has only seen three concussions this year.

Concussions can happen in any sport, and while football remains the sport with the highest risk for concussions, soccer players and lacrosse players are at high risk as well. Concussions do not necessarily have to result from a blow to the head—they may also result from a blow to another part of the body with the force transmitted to the head. While the initial blow is dangerous, a second blow before full recovery is worse, with the potential of severe brain swelling, known as the often fatal Second Impact Syndrome.

Last year, more than 400,000 students  nationwide suffered from a concussion, yet there are still many more high school students who have likely suffered from a concussion but have never been diagnosed. Many athletes dismiss their symptoms, associating concussions with amnesia and a loss of consciousness. However, most sports concussions actually occur without such symptoms and the most common symptoms of a concussion are headache, dizziness, difficulty concentrating, disorientation and sensitivity to light. “It’s a fluke,” Arakaki said. “But if it happens, it’s important to be able to recognize it and get the proper help.”

Students who suspect they have suffered from a concussion should immediately stop playing and seek medical attention, particularly through an magnetic resonance imaging or computed tomography scan. “That’s the one injury you never want to push yourself through,” Arakaki said. He also stresses that students should never take any medication, such as ibuprofen or aspirin, for a concussion because they could actually increase pressure in the brain and cause more serious brain damage. Students should only return to their respective sports two weeks after the headache resides.

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Concussions emerge head first as growing problem