States Impose New Laws on Youth Concussions, Health Centers Brace for 'Onslaught' of Reports

A fan's replica Buffalo Bills helmet, complete with warning sticker.

New laws that target safety in youth sports went into effect on Sunday in Pennsylvania, Florida and Indiana. The addition of these states brings the number of states with youth concussion laws to 38, says the National Football League, which supports the legislation. Almost all of the laws were put into place since May 2009, when the Zackery Lystedt Law was passed in Washington state.

The law is named for Zackery Lystedt, who in 2006 suffered a brain injury and nearly died following his return to a middle school football game after sustaining a concussion that went undetected. He was hurt while making a tackle and after sitting out for a while, returned in the fourth quarter. He collapsed after the game and needed two emergency brain surgeries to survive.

Zackery, his family and a broad range of medical, business and community partners lobbied the Washington state legislature for a law to protect young athletes in all sports from returning to play too soon. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell personally reached out state governors to push for the “Lystedt model” law nationwide.

“Zack’s courage has inspired me on both a personal and professional level,” Goodell said in an email to The Seattle Times. “His grace and dignity motivate us as a league to continue the push to protect youth athletes from head injuries.”

Florida’s law requires the removal of any student athlete from a game if the student is suspected of having a concussion. The law also requires written authorization from a “medical professional” before the injured student athlete can participate in that sport again.

Some argue that a “medical professional,” despite being a Medical Doctor of Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine, simply isn’t good enough for this kind of thing.

Dr. Melvin Field, founder of the Sports Concussion Program at Florida Hospital, told Orlando’s WKMG that the term “medical professional” is too vague. Dr. Field feels that the state’s concussion law should specify clearance only be issued by professionals trained in concussion management including neuropsychologists.

Dr. Field says MDs and DOs are skilled but may not have the specific training or experience to treat or determine if a concussion or traumatic brain injury (TBI) patient has fully recovered.

“If they were to have a second impact, a second hit while the brain is recovering, they could have a massive stroke or even die,” he said.

Pennsylvania’s law, while similar, is a little more stringent. It requires the same removal of athletes suspected of suffering a concussion, and bars them from returning until cleared by a physician. Pennsylvania’s law also penalizes coaches who don’t follow the rules, requires yearly training in concussions for high school coaches, and requires parents to sign an information sheet on brain injuries.

Healthcare centers are bracing for an upsurge in patients as a result of the law, reported Matthew Grady, MD, a pediatric sports-medicine specialist at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), said its area facilities were seeing 50 concussions a week last fall; now CHOP is adding staff to deal with what he expects will be “an onslaught.”

“We think this law really raises the bar for recognition of concussion and making sure that we get appropriate management early on,” Dr. Grady said.

To find your state’s law on youth sports and concussion safety, see the NFL’s page on Concussion Legislation By State.

(Photo Credit: Uni-Watch)

Read more from Joslyn at Babble Pets and at her blog, stark. raving. mad. mommy. You can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

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