Concussion Laws: State Legislation Enacted To Protect Student Athletes

11/04/2011 03:29 pm ET | Updated Jan 04, 2012

It's a common story: the quarterback of the high school football team gets body-slammed during the game, ends up with a concussion, and, much to his dismay, is forced to take time off in the middle of the season for his head to heal. Each season, 20 percent of high school football players (and 10 percent of college players) experience concussions -- and they're not the only ones. After football players, hockey players, soccer players, and martial artists are among the athletes who are most at-risk for brain injuries. The unfortunate truth is that many high school athletes are damaging their brains, and they're often making matters worse by returning to practice too soon.

Most commonly caused by a fall or sudden blow to the head or body, concussions result from an injury that shakes the brain inside the skull. Recovery time can range for a few hours to a few weeks or more, in serious cases. Oftentimes, athletes who feel pressured to return to practice because of upcoming competitions don't allow themselves the necessary time off for healing.

But with mounting concern from coaches, parents, and educators, that's beginning to change. 32 states currently have laws in place regarding student athlete concussions, and others may be following their lead in the near future. These laws have been enacted to protect young athletes from returning to their sport too soon after suffering from a concussion -- most of the legislation requires that the athlete stops practicing and competing when concussion symptoms arise, and begin again only once he or she has obtained a doctor's approval. Some laws also feature an educational component to ensure that coaches, athletes and parents are well-informed about the risks and proper treatment of concussions. The Virginia Board of Health, for instance, started leading public concussion workshops this summer.

The state of New Jersey has also taken action. Earlier this week, 19-year-old soccer player Devin Hope got a concussion after a ball came down on her temple, and finished out the game despite the pain she was experiencing. Devin is now taking time off to heal, and her school's concussion management program is helping her plan a healthy timeline for returning to soccer. As a result of New Jersey's concussion laws, similar programs are in place throughout the state.

Do you think student athletes face a lot of pressure to return to their sport before they've fully healed from concussions? How do you feel about the legislation in place? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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