The American Academy of Neurology (AAN) is calling for any athlete who is suspected of having a concussion to be removed from play until the athlete is evaluated by a physician with training in the evaluation and management of sports concussion.
The request is one of five recommendations from a new position statement approved by the AAN's Board of Directors that targets policymakers with authority over determining the policy procedures for when an athlete suffers from concussion while participating in a sporting activity.
"While the majority of concussions are self-limited injuries, catastrophic results can occur and we do not yet know the long-term effects of multiple concussions," said Jeffrey Kutcher, MD, MPH, chair of the AAN's Sports Neurology Section, which drafted the position statement. "We owe it to athletes to advocate for policy measures that promote high quality, safe care for those participating in contact sports."
Members of the AAN specialize in treating disorders of the brain and nervous system. Some AAN members have extensive experience caring for athletes and are best qualified to develop and disseminate guidelines for managing athletes with sports concussion.
According to the new AAN position statement, no athlete should be allowed to participate in sports if he or she is still experiencing symptoms from a concussion, and a neurologist or physician with proper training should be consulted prior to clearing the athlete for return to participation.
In addition, the AAN recommends a certified athletic trainer be present at all sporting events, including practices, where athletes are at risk for concussion. Education efforts should also be maximized to improving the understanding of sports concussion by all athletes, parents and coaches. "We need to make sure coaches, trainers, and even parents, are properly educated on this issue, and that the right steps have been taken before an athlete returns to the field," said Kutcher, who is also director of the University of Michigan's Neurosport program.
In 1997, the AAN published a guideline on the management of sports concussion that defines concussion grade levels and provides recommendations. The guideline is currently being updated.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, sports-related concussions occur in the United States three million times per year, and among people ages 15 to 24 are now second only to motor vehicle accidents as a leading cause of traumatic brain injury.