By Ken Reed

Christine Baugh is a lifelong athlete who wants to make sports safer for athletes of all ages. She’s currently a Harvard Ph.D. student working on a doctorate in health policy with a concentration in ethics.

One of Baugh’s focus areas is concussions in sports, especially in youth sports. According to a report from the National Athletic Trainers’ Association, sports-related concussions account for 58% of all emergency department visits for children between eight and 13 years old, a crucial period for brain development.

“In short, what we know today is that there is no positive health outcome associated with brain injuries, such as concussions,” says Baugh.

“The details of how many injuries over what period of time and at what ages lead to what health consequences acutely or in the long-term is, for the most part, unclear. However, there is a growing body of evidence that suggests that it is not only concussions, but also repetitive sub-concussive blows that may lead to changes in the brain.”

Baugh notes that one of the challenges with concussions in sports is that the key stakeholders involved — the people most likely to protect athletes — often downplay symptoms and/or push athletes back into action too quickly. This includes athletic trainers, coaches, parents and teammates.

“Research that Dr. Emily Kroshus (University of Washington) and I have collaborated on has shown that the majority of athletic trainers in college sports medicine groups feel pressured to prematurely return athletes to play following a concussion,” says Baugh. “Similarly, athletes who feel pressure to return to play following a concussion from multiple stakeholders in the athletic environment (e.g., coach, parent, teammates) are more likely to under-report their concussion symptoms.”

This is a dangerous situation. Athletes who receive a second concussion soon after a first (called Second Impact Syndrome) can experience catastrophic outcomes, including death.

Baugh says one potential solution is to develop incentives for athletes that will lead to them taking the necessary steps to maintain or improve their health. Another step would be to ensure that athletic trainers at all levels are empowered with unchallengeable authority to make medical decisions.

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


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