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Though the potentially devastating consequences of a brain concussion are often hard to determine except over time and with the help of trained medical professionals, countless athletes often face the question of how soon they can resume sports after an injury. Up until now, established procedure involved "grading" concussions according to perceived seriousness, usually by medics or coaches on the field which has raised concerns about possibly missing more serious injuries which can be made worse by repeated concussions. As part of an initiative to provide better protection for athletes, whether professional or amateur, The American Academy of Neurology (ACN) has issued revised guidelines concerning proper assessment and treatment of concussions. Replacing previous guidelines dating back to 1997, the new guidelines are based on the latest research into the brain injuries most often seen in athletes. Recognizing that as many as 3.8 million concussions occur each year, the ACN warns that many athletes fail to get proper treatment because warning signs often go unnoticed.
Among the recommended ACN guidelines are:
The ACN guidelines are designed with the latest research in mind but also recognize that research into brain concussions is ongoing and that new findings may lead to changes in how coaches and athletic trainers should handle injured athletes. According to Dr. Jeffrey S. Kutcher, associate professor in neurology at the University of Michigan Medical School and co-leader of the panel forming the new guidelines, "If in doubt, sit it out" is a key precaution that coaches and athletes need to remember. "If headaches or other symptoms return with the start of exercise, stop the activity and consult a doctor," he added.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, concussion symptoms usually fall into four categories:
Symptoms can occur immediately after a concussion or can appear days or months after the injury. In many cases, athletes may prefer not to admit to experiencing symptoms due to the fear that it might prevent them from being allowed to play. Despite worries, persistent concussion symptoms should never be ignored, especially if there is a possibility of further concussions that can worsen the problem.
While the new concussion guidelines are still a work in progress, increased awareness of the danger posed by sports-reelated concussions are intended to ensure that athletes at all levels of play will be able to prevent the kind of crippling injuries that can prematurely end a sports career. As athletes, coaches, and family members mobilize to incorporate safe practices into all aspects of contact sports, we can hope that there will be fewer tragedies linked to repetitive head injuries.
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