Schools increasing use of athletic trainers to curb concussions


As more parents and school officials become aware of concussion safety, more athletic trainers can be seen on the sidelines at sporting events.

In some cases, schools rent those professional trainers, said Kate Frank, a certified athletic trainer at Action Physical Therapy in Hubbard. She works at her local school district’s home-sports events and travels with the football team.

“I know it’s not a law, but I know that a lot of parents and administration are noticing that athletic trainers take a lot off their backs as far as medical decisions,” Frank said. “So a lot of schools — I think it’s more parents — are pushing to have an athletic trainer on the sideline regardless of what sport it is.”

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as many as 3.8 million sports- and recreation-related concussions occur every year. More research on concussions is paving the way for changes in the way sports-related health care professionals are trained in preventing and caring for concussions in school-age athletes.

Although the initiative to have certified athletic trainers available to all schools with athletic programs was recommended by the American Medical Association in a 1998 policy, there was an initial lag in getting everyone on board.

In 2009-10, the National Athletic Trainers Association reported that 42 percent of high schools in the U.S. had full-time or part-time access to athletic trainers. In recent years, as more research on concussions and the possibility of side effects surfaces, the numbers are improving.

In 2013, NATA said two thirds (66.7 percent) of the nation’s high schools have access to athletic trainers.

During the past 10 years, Americans have changed the way they think about concussions, said Dr. Joseph Congeni, a leading authority on concussions. He is director of sports medicine and clinical co-director of orthopedics and sports medicine at Akron Children’s Hospital.

While concussions were once thought to be a short-term ailment, research now shows they can cause depression, anxiety and memory loss. Some studies have even linked repeated concussions to Alzheimer’s disease.

“The myth that it’s just short-term transient I think is dying out,” Dr. Congeni said.

While school coaches are required to learn CPR and basic first aid, they can also participate in free coach-training programs, such as the CDC-sponsored, “Heads Up: Concussion in Youth Sports.”

In 2013, Ohio’s lawmakers approved the “Return to Play” law, which basically says no athlete can return to play without being cleared by a medical professional that he or she is cognitively fit to play and not showing any signs of a concussion.

The law sparked the increased use of pre-testing services. Many school districts, including Hubbard, use the ImPACT concussion test. ImPACT, which stands for Immediate Post-Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing, is the most-widely used computerized concussion evaluation system.

The test is used in Major League Baseball, the National Football League, WWE professional wrestling and the National Hockey League. More than 7,400 high schools use it nationwide.

“I go by symptoms and, believe it or not, there is no [medical] test out there to tell you that you have [a concussion],” Frank said.

ImPACT officials say this tool tests a person’s cognitive abilities but is not a substitute for medical evaluation and treatment. Only a doctor can truly diagnose a concussion, they say.

Angela Wesser lives in Frank’s hometown of Hubbard. Her son, who plays soccer, has had multiple concussions unrelated to the sport. He got the first after falling off the top of a bunk bed and the second from a sledding accident.

After the second concussion, her son did show signs of confusion for a few days and nausea for a month.

“He missed a few days of school,” she said.

Now, Wesser is worried because the likelihood of his getting another concussions was higher because he’s already had two.

“It always crosses my mind a little bit,” she said.

She is confident the school district is going in the right direction to keep players safe.

“They had to take some kind of concussion training,” Wesser said. “And they take them out. They don’t tell them to tough it out or anything like that.”

Dr. Congeni likes the idea of schools having trainers on staff and commended the Hubbard school system for employing four trainers. He is also excited about the way education on the topic is taking hold.

“Education is very, very important for athletes, for parents, for trainers, for coaches, for officials, for educators because those are all people that come into contact with these athletes,” he said. is a collaborative effort among the Youngstown State University journalism program, The University of Akron, Cuyahoga Community College and professional media outlets including, WYSU-FM Radio and The Vindicator, and The Beacon Journal and Rubber City Radio of Akron.

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