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What You Should Know About the NCAA’s Concussion Safety Protocol

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Injury Attorneys | Restoring LivesTM

Updated March 24, 2019 | Brain Injuries |


Football is America’s sport, and Americans love it just the way that it is. Part of the fun for the spectators is the intensity and violence. It’s a safe assumption that most football fans know that players can obtain concussions after blunt, sudden impacts to the head or upper body (e.g. tackles and falls). What better way to reduce the risk of concussions than to minimize the violence?

In the past, softening the game had in fact been discussed, and not surprisingly, it was quickly ruled out. Despite strong suggestive research indicating that repeated brain injuries can lead to brain disease—as well as other potential permanent disturbances in cognitive function later in life—an alteration to the sport was a no-go. But something had to give, and in 2010, it finally did.

Concussion Safety Protocol Checklist

In 2010, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) adopted a concussion safety protocol to be implemented in all 65 member schools. It was developed with the help of seasoned physicians, neurologists, athletic trainers and directors, coaches, conference administrators, and the NCAA’s concussion safety protocol committee. The checklist exists to properly educate and prepare athletic departments as they ensure the safety and well-being of student athletes.

A concussion safety protocol checklist is distributed to every member school before the football season begins and includes an outline for the following:

  • Pre-season education
  • Pre-participation assessment
  • Recognition and diagnosis of a concussion
  • Suspected concussion evaluation plan
  • Post-concussion management
  • Return-to-play management

Pre-Season Education Management

Literature regarding concussions and concussion management are distributed to:

  • Student athletes
  • Coaches
  • Team physicians
  • Athletic directors
  • Athletic trainers

Each party must sign an acknowledgement stating that they read and understood all of the material.

Pre-Participation Assessment

After the educational materials have been distributed, varsity student athletes are required to receive a baseline concussion assessment involving:

  • Brain injury/concussion history
  • Cognitive assessment
  • Evaluation of balance
  • Symptoms evaluation

A team physician is required to give each varsity student athletes clearance to move forward with the season. If a student athlete has had a concussion in the past or has experienced multiple traumatic brain injuries (TBIs), it is recommended that they receive another baseline evaluation six months from the initial evaluation date.

Recognition and Diagnosis of a Concussion

Any student athlete that displays signs or symptoms of a concussion must be:

  • Removed from play or practice immediately
  • Evaluated by a certified athletic trainer or team physician (either D.O. or M.D.) with experience related to concussions
  • Removed from play or practice for the remainder of the calendar date if a concussion diagnosis is confirmed

If a concussion is suspected, the pre-participation assessment is to be performed on the student athlete with the addition of an assessment for skull fracture, intracranial bleeding, and trauma to the cervical spine by the appropriate medical professional.

Post-Concussion Management

If a concussion diagnosis is confirmed, written and/or oral documentation is to be provided to both the student athlete and another adult (e.g. a roommate or family member). After diagnosis, the remainder of the protocol requires that emergency transportation is readily available if the student athlete exhibits any of the following symptoms:

  • Prolonged loss of consciousness
  • A continuously diminishing mental state or cognitive abilities
  • Vomiting
  • Spine injury
  • Glasgow Coma Scale < 13*

*The Glasgow Coma Scale is used to determine the level of consciousness/severity of a traumatic brain injury. The scale measures an individual’s ability to open their eyes and assesses the state of verbal and motor responses. A mild score is between 13 and 15 and can therefore result in permanent brain damage.

Since symptoms of a concussion can be delayed, other complications could arise that need further exploration, such as:

  • Mood disorders
  • Headache disorders
  • Sleep dysfunction
  • Post-concussion syndrome
  • Vision dysfunction (e.g. dizziness or vertigo)

Return to Play Management

Ultimately, it’s up to the team physician or another medical specialist to give the go-ahead for a student athlete to return to play. A step-by-step management plan must be developed by a healthcare official with concussion-related expertise. The management plan requires that all injured student athletes limit cognitive and physical activity until they return to baseline requirements via assessment. Afterward, they can slowly start to reintroduce all of their usual routines.

When athletes don’t exhibit new or worsening symptoms while performing any of these functions, they’re on the right path. They can begin returning to normal sports-related activities, such as:

  • Light exercise without resistance training
  • Football-related exercise with a lack of head impact
  • Non-contact practice with progressive resistance training
  • Unrestricted play
  • Return to play

As of January 2015, each member school is required to submit their individually-crafted concussion safety protocol to the NCAA concussion safety protocol committee for review. Each protocol requires approval and must be aligned with the guidelines demonstrated in the Concussion Diagnosis and Management Best Practices.

Contact a Brain Injury Attorney Today

Sports are violent; that is an inarguable fact, but it’s part of the fun. However, it doesn’t mean that injuries sustained from playing sports should leave you or your child in pain.

If you or a loved one have been injured as a result of a sports-related concussion or brain injury, contact the Indianapolis Brain Injury Attorneys of Wilson Kehoe Winingham. The lawyers at WKW can help you get the compensation you deserve. Call 317.920.6400 or fill out an online contact form for a free, no-obligation case evaluation.

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