Stories about: Mike O’Brien

FIFA’s sports concussion policy sends wrong message to soccer players

Soccer-Head-ball-adultsGermany’s Christoph Kramer is a World Cup Superstar. He’s also a symbol of an extremely flawed sports concussion policy. Kramer was knocked out and lost consciousness 17 minutes into the World Cup final match. Germany’s team doctor allowed him to play for another 15 minutes, finally allowing him to be removed from the game as he fell over.

“Unfortunately, this is not an isolated case,” says Michael J. O’Brien, MD, director of the sports concussion clinic at Boston Children’s Hospital. O’Brien cites Uruguay’s Álvaro Pereira. When Pereira was knocked out cold during a first-round match, the team doctor called him out. The doctor’s decision was overruled by Pereira and the coach.

“We need an agreed upon set of rules for handling players with symptoms of concussion. These rules need to be applied in all cases—whether it’s the World Cup Final or a pre-season scrimmage,” says O’Brien.

The professional athlete risks his health when he plays impaired or concussed, and also sends the wrong message to youth sports’ players and coaches. “Kids identify with professional athletes,” says O’Brien. “Aspiring soccer players try to emulate pros, even their risky behavior.”

A two-part solution

Socceer-gameO’Brien and other experts recommend a complete shift in FIFA’s concussion policy. Suggestions include:

  • providing time to assess players with suspected concussion (current player substitution rules require teams to play with one less athlete on the field while a doctor assesses the injured player, which creates a disincentive for sideline assessment)
  • authorizing an independent physician, rather than a team physician, to remove a concussed player from the game
  • implementing a standard, science-based protocol to sports concussion assessment and return to play

Parents and coaches can be part of the solution, too, says O’Brien. “We need a culture change. It’s important for parents, players and coaches to determine youth sports goals and set limits. Is the goal to stay healthy and have fun? Does possible victory merit pushing through injury and increasing risks to player’s health?”

Do you want to learn more about protecting players from head injury? Download Boston Children’s concussion prevention guide.

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Are low-tech (and cheap) evaluations the future of on-field concussion testing?

Plato may have been the first to cite necessity as the mother of invention, but the latest group to embrace the proverb may be coaches, athletic trainers and families worried about sports-related concussions in teen athletes. After an on-field blow to the head, neurocognitive assessment tools and high-tech helmets can measure symptoms of concussion, but their high cost and computer dependence limit use at one of the most common injury scenes—the sidelines of high school sport events.

As researchers at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor pondered the problem, they struck it rich with a $5 gadget.

They hypothesized that a hockey puck attached to a dowel, or rod, marked in centimeters (dubbed a falling measuring stick) could be used to measure an athlete’s reaction time. Prolonged reaction time is one of the most common and sensitive indications of a concussion.

It works like this: to test reaction time, an athlete grasps the stick right above the puck. A trainer drops the stick, and the athlete grabs it as it falls, with the trainer noting reaction time in milliseconds. The researchers recorded their findings in a study recently published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, which showed the low-tech tool was fairly accurate in measuring prolonged reaction time among concussed athletes. The findings suggest the jerry-rigged dowel provides a reasonable estimate of prolonged reaction time, which could help identify athletes who may have suffered a concussion.

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