Georgia has a new law designed to protect children and teens from the deadly effects of concussions. The Return to Play law, which was signed by Gov. Nathan Deal in April and went into effect Jan. 1, aims to prepare schools to take appropriate, safe action when a young athlete has a concussion.
Georgia’s Return to Play law calls for concussion management policies within each school system that should raise awareness about these injuries with school staff and youth athletes’ parents, establish the actions that should be taken when an injury occurs during practices or games and requires each concussed athlete to get clearance from a medical professional before they can return to their sport. Youth sports leagues outside of schools are required to provide parents with information about concussions at the start of their sport’s season.
With the new law, Georgia joins 43 other states in the adoption of concussion legislation, part of a growing national awareness of the dangers of head injuries for children and teens.
“Concussion injuries are not new to youth sports. These injuries are often considered as just a ‘bump on the head’ or getting your ‘bell rung.’ But doctors and researchers are discovering that these injuries are much more serious, especially to young athletes,” said Carol Ball, program consultant in the Office of Injury Prevention at the Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH).
Harold King, manager of sports athletic training and community outreach at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta (CHOA), said many Georgia schools and club sports already take precautions when it comes to athletes who may have concussions. But he said the law encourages all sports programs, including those at private schools and in recreational leagues, to take concussions seriously.
“All the programs should be on the same page,” he said. “This law puts us in line with the national standard of care for concussions.”
Concussions, a type of traumatic brain injury, happen when a person is hit hard enough to disrupt the way the brain normally works. Although a hit can be hard enough to knock a person out, most people don’t lose consciousness when they get a concussion. More often, they show a range of signs and symptoms – anything from headaches, nausea and fatigue to confusion, dizziness and feeling irritable or depressed.
To fully recover from a concussion, an athlete needs complete rest, not only from sports but from school, homework, even watching television or using computers. Recovery time can last from days to weeks, depending on how long it takes the athlete’s symptoms to completely fade away.
“Each athlete is different, and each concussion needs to be dealt with based on how it affects that individual,” King said. “An athlete’s individual symptoms and individual recovery determine when they can return to their sport.”
The problem has been convincing coaches, parents and the athletes themselves of the importance of taking time to recover from a concussion. King and his colleagues at CHOA are working to educate everyone – doctors, nurses, coaches, athletic trainers and parents – about the signs and symptoms of concussions and when it is safe for athletes to return to the game. CHOA describes the latest science and strategies for evaluating concussions in its concussion reference guides for doctors, parents and coaches.
DPH encourages schools and sports leagues to go above and beyond the law by requiring coaches and sports staff to take extra concussion management training courses, many of which are available online and take only one or two hours. The Georgia High School Association and the Georgia Independent School Association have already exceeded the law by requiring such training for coaches.
For more information about concussions, check out Heads Up: Concussion in Youth Sports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Federation of State High School Associations or CHOA’s concussion program.