In a few weeks, high school football teams across the country will be starting practice for the 2015 season. It's an exciting time for athletes, coaches and parents.
However, before the players put on helmets and pads for the first time a concussion awareness protocol needs to be followed at every high school in the United States.
This protocol should include educational sessions on brain trauma injuries for coaches, parents and athletes. Two big areas that should be covered are identifying concussion symptoms and return-to-play guidelines.
All three groups -- athletes, coaches and parents -- need to fully understand the brain injury risks associated with football, the symptoms that indicate the possibility of a concussion, and what needs to happen before an athlete suspected of having a concussion can return to practice or game action.
The key takeaway message from these educational sessions needs to be: "When in doubt, sit them out."
Fortunately, there's now an inexpensive, quick (approximately two minutes) and accurate test for concussion detection and evaluation available. It's called the King-Devick Test and it has been endorsed by the world famous Mayo Clinic.
The King-Devick Test is easy to administer for almost anyone. You don't have to be a medical professional to administer the test to a youth or high school athlete. Youth and high school coaches and parents can do it after a minimum of instruction.
"Studies have indicated that the King-Devick Test is an effective tool for the real-time evaluation of concussion because it looks at rapid eye movement and attention -- both are affected by concussions," said David Dodick, M.D., Mayo Clinic neurologist and director of Mayo Clinic's concussion program. "Most importantly, the test is affordable and can easily be used by any youth sports league, and administered by non-medical personnel. And youth athletes are at a higher risk for concussion and a longer recovery time than adults."
The test costs between five and ten dollars a year for athletes. The yearly cost is due to the need to establish an annual baseline. Ideally, the King-Devick Test will eventually become part of every youth and high school athlete's pre-participation requirements list.
On the sidelines, the test can identify athletes that not only have suffered a full-blown concussion but sub-concussive brain trauma as well. Thus, the test is an excellent "remove-from-play" tool for trainers, coaches and parents. An effective remove-from-play tool is critical because it can help prevent Second Impact Syndrome, a condition in which a person experiences a second brain injury shortly after the first. Second Impact Syndrome can have devastating effects, including death.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that between 1.6 and 3.8 million students have concussions every year. And given that research has shown that up to 50% of athletes don't self-report brain injury symptoms, having a simple, valid and accurate tool for detecting concussions on the sidelines of sporting events is a critical societal need.
The King-Devick test is a two-minute exam that requires an athlete to establish a baseline time at the start of every season by reading a series of single digit numbers displayed on three flash cards or an iPad program. After a possible head injury, the athlete is given the test again. If the time needed to complete the test is more than five seconds slower than his/her baseline test, a concussion can be confidently suspected. At that point, the athlete should be removed from play and evaluated by a licensed medical professional.
The King-Devick Test has also been proven to pick up "silent concussions." These are brain injuries that have occurred in athletes despite the lack of typical concussion symptoms. As such, a coach or parent could quickly test an athlete after a big hit even if the athlete isn't wobbly or experiencing any other obvious effect from the hit.
Some sports medicine doctors and trainers have called the King-Devick test the "missing link" for practical sideline management of concussions due to its simplicity, objectivity and effectiveness.
There are a few other quality concussion screening tests out there. However, these tests need to be administered by professional healthcare providers. The King-Devick test is easy to learn, understand and administer for virtually anybody.
The subject of concussions is a growing concern in football circles, but concussions and the negative impact of repetitive sub-concussive blows to the head, are a major issue in other sports as well. For example, girls' soccer is second to football as the sport with the most concussions.
General awareness and understanding of brain injuries is still lacking at all levels of sports. Torn up knees and shoulders are one thing, but brain injuries are an entirely different matter. An easy-to-learn, inexpensive and highly-accurate concussion screening tool like the King-Devick test could prevent thousands of devastating brain injuries in high school and youth sports programs.
As such, it should be implemented across the nation immediately.
For more information on the King-Devick Test, visit www.kingdevicktest.com