Protecting Young People from Concussions

By Briana Vannozzi

“You know it’s a process. I have some headaches, I have some balance issues,” said former college soccer athlete Bryan Rice.

Rice describes his day-to-day symptoms, nearly 20 months post concussion.

“I was a defender, the cross came in and I went to head it out or try to head it out and the attacker came in and we hit head to head,” he said.

He’s speaking out on behalf of student-athletes, and the move to address subconcussive, or repeated impacts to the head. They may not always cause concussion symptoms but recent research shows it can cause significant brain damage over time. Congressman Frank Pallone recently sat down with representatives of the NFL to discuss it.

“It was interesting because it was the first time actually that the NFL admitted that concussions and repeat concussions were a problem,” Pallone said.

“We’re gaining knowledge all the time. When we get to the real young kids and subconcussive hits, we think we’re worried, but we don’t have evidence for that that can prove it. What prudence says is you shouldn’t be banging your head lots and lots of times it is not good for you, wither you get concussed or not,” said Dr. Stephen Rice, director of the Jersey Shore Sports Medicine Center.

Congressman Pallone and several members of the House sent letters to collegiate and youth sports leaders asking them to outline how they plan to prevent and mitigate the risks of brain injuries in their athletes.

“A lot of research shows pretty conclusively that concussions for young erpeople — and I’m not just talking about college athletes or high school athletes, but even younger — is a different situation than it is with adults,” Pallone said.

“Just because don’t hear about it from the kids, they’re not reporting it, they’re not describing symptoms doesn’t mean that they’re not also being affected,” said Rosemarie Scolaro Moser, neuropsychologist and director of the Sports Concussion Center of New Jersey.

Moser’s research has helped challenge the conventional wisdom on treating concussions. Protocol used to be strict rest — even cocoon therapy — by limiting all activity until symptoms subside.

“What we talk about is an acute phase of rest. It might be a couple of days, depending again on the concussion and on the individual and then after that gradual introduction of safe exercise or physical exertion,” she said.

“The alliance works with a statewide coalition of experts and together we’re pleased with what’s happening in the state, but we know that there’s more than can be done,” said Brain Injury Alliance of New Jersey Vice President of Communications Wendy Berk.

New Jersey has some of the strictest guidelines in the country for limiting contact in youth sports, from eliminating head balls for young soccer players to just 90 minutes of contact per week in football practices.

“We’re doing more and more research as we do more and more research it is filtered to us and will be filtered to our athletic trainers and if we have to put more restrictions in, we will,” said Bill Bruno, assistant director at the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association.

The athletic associations will have until May 25 to respond to lawmakers and let them know just how they’re addressing these subconcussive blows, and whether their rules are enough to protect players.