Protecting Our Players
Concussion management has become big news lately as the professional sporting leagues deal with the issue and its effects on their players. A recent study has found, not surprisingly, that concussions in the National Hockey League may be getting more severe; Major League Baseball has adopted new concussion guidelines; and the National Football League will be requiring sideline concussion tests this fall, assuming there is a 2011 season.
These are all major steps in the right direction - not only for the players themselves, but also for the millions of student athletes across the country who look toward professional players as role models. But more needs to be done to protect our young athletes from the often devastating effects of head injuries, and the state of Iowa recently made one giant leap toward making athletic activity safer for our children.
A new groundbreaking law permits student athletes in Iowa to be evaluated by physical therapists to determine when it is safe to 'return to play' following a hit, fall, or other incident in order to reduce the risk of a concussion or other brain injuries. Signed April 7 by Gov Terry Branstad, SF 367 requires that a student be immediately removed from participation in an activity when a concussion is suspected, and must be evaluated by a physical therapist or other licensed health care provider trained in the evaluation and management of concussions and other brain injuries. The health care provider must provide written clearance for the student to return to activity.
Kudos to Iowa Physical Therapy Association (IPTA) President Blake A. Hardy, PT, DPT, OCS, and IPTA members whose grassroots lobbying efforts helped ensure that student athletes with head injuries will continue to have access to physical therapists. So far, similar legislation has been introduced in more than 35 states and enacted in 15 in an effort to reduce the risk of concussions or other brain injuries sustained in community and school sports or other extracurricular interscholastic activities. The Iowa law is the first to specifically allow student athletes to receive clearance to return to activity from a licensed physical therapist. Legislation in Vermont also includes physical therapists as health care providers who can make similar decisions, but the bill is awaiting passage. As we know, physical therapists are well trained in evaluation and treatment of balance and vestibular disorders and are appropriate participants in return-to-play decisions.
APTA is working to make certain that physical therapists and other qualified health care providers are included in similar legislation in other states to ensure that there is access and collaboration across a broad range of providers on this important public safety issue.
What are your thoughts on this issue? How might physical therapists best help ameliorate this public health concern? How is this issue being addressed in your state?