Safety & Security

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High School Football Player Deaths from Brain, Spine Injuries on the Rise

25 Jan, 2017

By: Michael Popke
Event Owners Can Combat Parents' Fears by Knowing What Research Means, What Steps Are Being Taken

First, the good news: There was a decrease in the number of young football players who died from head and spine injuries. In fact, almost four times as many young football players died from head and spine injuries between 1965 and 1974 than between 2005 and 2015.

But after a downward trend in deaths for years — primarily thanks to improved medical care, new helmet safety standards and implementation of rules banning head-first tackling — those numbers began to increase in the 2010s.

That’s the verdict of a new study conducted by the University of North Carolina and released earlier this month by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. UNC has gathered data on deaths and injuries related to high school and college football since 1965, according to an Associated Press report.

The question, however, is what event owners need to know, and what they should do with this information.

In part, it is essential to understand the growth itself. Kristen Kucera, the study’s lead author, told media outlets the recent increase could be due, in part, to increased media attention and greater accuracy in injury reporting.

Also worth noting: Kucera and her team of researchers found that about one-fifth of high school football players who died from a brain injury were diagnosed with a concussion less than a month before suffering their fatal blow.

Such a disturbing trend hints at the greater vigilance required of coaches and athletic trainers in allowing student-athletes to return to play after suffering a head injury. While many coaches, school district administrators and student-athletes in recent years have gained a greater understanding of the risks associated with concussions and second-impact syndrome (swelling of the brain that occurs following a second concussion before symptoms from a previous concussion have subsided), a proposed bill in Arkansas could change the role athletic trainers play in the return-to-play process.

Under the proposal, athletic trainers would be unable to practice in non-clinical settings, and student-athletes with spinal injuries or undergoing post-surgery rehab would be off-limits.

“Standing over that kid, knowing there’s potential the injury could affect the rest of [his] life – it’s a big responsibility,” Stacia Lappin, an athletic trainer at Har-Ber High School in Springdale, Ark., told 5NEWS in Fort Smith, Arkansas. Additionally, under the bill, parents might have to pay more for treatment their kids can obtain for free from athletic trainers.

The bill is the brainchild of State Representative Joe Farrer — who, incidentally, is a physical therapist.

As concerns mount, event owners may take it upon themselves to insure certified trainers are available onsite for competitive events. Many venues have already started adding this service, and have forged partnerships with local hospitals and other health facilities.

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