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Extending Concussion Safety Laws To Cover All Youth Sports Programs Essential, Says Sharon van Kooten of Indiana

Recent developments

A leading concussion expert, Dr. Robert Cantu,  recently recommended that youth under the age of 14 should not participate in contact or collision sports as currently played:

Early signs of CTE in the brains of 17- and 18-year olds," says Dr. Cantu, "have been detected in the brains of kids who showed no symptoms when they were alive.

The young brains are more vulnerable, they're less myelinated (the protective sheath - myelin - that develops around neurons), the necks are weaker, the heads are bigger proportionately so the forces that accelerate the brain need not be as high to produce higher acceleration,' Cantu told Boston's WCVB-TV.

It's not just concussions that worries Dr. Cantu, its the accumulation of sub-concussive blows: ‘In fact, we've had a number [of brains] in our center who have had no recognized concussions at all, so its total brain trauma.'

‘We have millions of youngsters putting their heads into collision sports right now and we don't really know how safe this is for them,' Cantu said."

Scientists at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University are finding that some impacts experienced by children playing youth football are harder than they anticipated they would be.

"'We're finding that, surprisingly, these kids are getting hit harder than we originally thought,'" said Ray Daniel, a doctoral student in biomedical engineering at the university. ‘In terms of measurements, these kids are seeing around 30 to 50 g, and the average impact for a college player is about 26 g. We didn't exactly expect to see 7- and 8-year-olds get college-level hits.'"

Based on Stone Phillips' "Hard Hits, Hard Numbers" report, there were six impacts over 80 g in the youth study, with one 100 g hit.

A study reported in the June 2011 journal Pediatrics entitled "Epidemiology of Sudden Death in Young, Competitive Athletes Due to Blunt Trauma"  concluded that, "Most of the fatal events reported here are potentially preventable, and our observations underscore the importance of developing more effective equipment design, return-to-play decision strategies, modified blocking/tackling rules, and greater attention to the education of coaches, trainers, parents, and athletes regarding the consequences of repeated head blows and concussions. The ultimate aspiration of reporting these data is the creation of a safer environment for young people on the athletic field."

A two-year study by researchers at Purdue of high school football players suggests that concussions are likely caused by many hits over time and not from a single blow to the head, as commonly believed.  Commenting on the study, Thomas Talavage, an expert in functional neuroimaging and co-director of the Purdue MRI Facility, said, "'The changes in brain activity we are observing suggest that a player is having to use a different strategy to perform a task, and that is likely because functional capacity is reduced.  The level of change in the fMRI signal is significantly correlated to the number and distribution of hits that a player takes. Performance doesn't change, but brain activity changes, showing that certain areas are no longer being recruited to perform a task."