Two weeks ago, I attended a symposium on concussion in Indianapolis hosted by the American College of Sports Medicine. Dr. Margot Putukian, the Director of Athletic Medicine at Princeton and the chair of the US Lacrosse Sports Science & Safety Committee, joined me there. The event featured the leaders of a number of sports governing bodies, as well as representatives from the NCAA, NFHS and NFL.
Presenting were some of the leading authorities on concussion, including Dr. Robert Cantu, who recently co-founded the Sports Legacy Institute. The meeting was focused on establishing a collaboration between the medical and amateur sports communities to raise awareness of the signs and symptoms of concussion and establish consistent messaging about the critical importance of removing an athlete from play when a concussion is suspected until evaluated and cleared by an appropriate medical professional.
We know so much more about concussion injuries today, including the fact that a brain injury (which is really what a concussion is) can cause long term damage if not recognized and treated responsibly. Although the overall injury profile in both boys and girls lacrosse is favorable when compared to other sports, concussion remains a concern for lacrosse players. The injury can occur when a player’s head comes to an abrupt stop, either as a result of head-to-head or stick to head contact in the boys’ game or stick-to-head contact in the girls’ game…both of which are illegal. The injury can also happen when a player falls and hits his/her head on the ground. In each of these cases, a sudden deceleration of the brain causes the brain to impact the inside of the skull.
Unfortunately, no helmet in any sport can prevent concussion, and concussion is not an injury risk limited to sport. While parents must understand that there is a risk of injury in lacrosse as there is in any activity, the best way to minimize the potential of concussion is to make sure that coaches are teaching proper technique according to both the letter and spirit of the rules.
Too often I have seen players in both boys’ and girls’ lacrosse who are either overly aggressive or out of control, which can be a direct reflection of the coaching they are receiving. Boys’ lacrosse is a contact sport, but it is not intended to be a collision sport like football, and head-to head contact is illegal and dangerous. Girls’ lacrosse is a fluid game in which defense is intended to be played primarily with the feet, not the stick; uncontrolled stick swinging is illegal and dangerous.
However, even the best coaching and equipment can’t prevent accidental injury, so make sure – as coach or parent – that you are aware of the signs and symptoms of concussion. If you suspect a player has sustained a concussion, withhold that player for further competition – practice or game – until he/she has been fully evaluated by a medical professional who has experience recognizing and treating concussion injury. When in doubt, sit them out!
You can find out more about concussion by visiting www.cdc.gov/concussion/HeadsUp/high_school.html