An anticipated national report on the science of sports-related concussions shows just how little is known about the invisible injuries, a University of Nebraska-Lincoln expert said.
It remains unknown how common the concussions are, how long athletes suffering concussions should stay off the field, or what the long-term consequences of the injuries are, said Dennis Molfese, director of the new UNL Center of Brain Biology and Behavior.
That was probably the most sobering finding of the report released Wednesday by the National Academy of Sciences, Molfese said.
“Many policies surrounding concussion are not based on scientific research,” Molfese said. “We need a great deal more information before conclusions can be reached.”
Molfese was among 14 experts who served on the academy panel charged with investigating sports-related concussions in youths.
The 300-plus page report made numerous recommendations. Most noteworthy was the need to change attitudes about concussions among coaches, parents and athletes, making sure they are educated on the seriousness of the injury and the potential consequences of repeat concussions.
“Within many athletic cultures there is the desire to not report (concussions) on the part of athletes because they feel like they're letting their teammates down,'' said Robert Graham, a George Washington University administrator who led the study committee.
“We need to change that culture.''
The consensus among the panel was that for about 90 percent of athletes who suffer concussions, impairments are relatively short-lived and temporary, with most athletes recovering within two weeks.
“But if it's not dealt with appropriately within those two weeks, there can be serious consequences,'' said Dartmouth professor Arthur Maerlender. “Getting that second concussion is potentially lethal.''
The panel drew no conclusions on the link between youth sports concussions and a dementia-causing disease seen in some former pro football players, saying the causes of chronic traumatic encephalopathy remain unclear.
Other recommendations of the panel included establishment of a national surveillance system to monitor how often sports-related concussions occur in youths 15 to 21; longitudinal studies of the short-term and long-term consequences of concussions; and more research into equipment improvements and rules changes that could reduce the risk of concussions among young athletes.
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