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NCAA Concussion Policies - What You Need to Know

Concussions are some of the most common sports injuries that occur among athletes. However, they can cause serious, even permanent brain damage and other harmful side effects to young and old players alike. The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), a nonprofit organization, seeks to protect the wellbeing of collegiate athletes from dangerous and negligent sport safety practices. It lays out several policies for preventing and dealing with concussions in a variety of sports.

Concussion Safety Protocol Management

Initiated in January 2015, the Concussion Safety Protocol Review Process combines the efforts of five Division I conferences with autonomy to build upon legislation aimed at protecting the wellbeing of student-athletes. It sets forth guidelines and legislation regarding concussion injuries. Division II and III schools, as well as non-autonomous institutions, must abide by the legislation passed in this review process. A Concussion Safety Protocol Checklist is also provided to schools, which helps ensure the health and safety of athletes remains a priority at academic institutions.

Concussion Management Plan

Under NCAA guidelines, all institutions must make their concussion management plan publicly available. Furthermore, they must provide information fact sheets to parents and others. This can be either through printed materials or online information on their website.

The NCAA’s concussion management plan includes the following areas:

  1. Education. Each institution should provide information regarding concussion policies to relevant parties. These may include teachers, parents, coaches, student-athletes, team physicians, athletic trainers, and athletic directors. All parties are required to sign an acknowledgement that they have read and understood the concussion facts and management plan policies.
  2. Pre-participation assessment. All student-athletes are required to undergo a physical assessment prior to participating in sports activities. This assessment includes a balance evaluation, symptom evaluation, and cognitive assessment. Furthermore, the student’s history of concussion and brain injuries must be evaluated. At the end of the assessment, the team physician must determine whether or not the student is cleared to participate in sports activities, or if additional testing is needed.
  3. Recognition and diagnosis of a concussion. Any student-athlete who is experiencing symptoms of a concussion must be removed from practice and referred to a team physician or athletic trainer for diagnosis. A trained health care provider should conduct a thorough clinical examination to detect any signs or symptoms of a concussion, including discrepancies with balance and cognitive abilities. An athlete who is diagnosed with a concussion must be withheld from sports activities for at least the remainder of the day.
  4. Post-concussion management. Initial management of a concussion is physical and cognitive rest for the injured athlete. The health care provider should consider the individual’s clinical assessment, as well as modifying factors, specific needs, and concussion history. The physician should also conduct a clinical evaluation at the initial time of the incident, assess the student-athlete’s head and cervical spine, facilitate transportation to a local hospital if necessary, and provide follow-up home care instructions.

Other NCAA Concussion Policies

Return to Activity

Physical and psychological responses to a concussion differ for each individual. This makes it hard to lay out a time frame for returning to activity after a concussion. The physician should monitor the athlete’s physical and mental condition to determine if there are any post-concussion syndromes or disorders that need active, targeted treatment. Such treatment may include vision therapy, vestibular therapy, and progressive aerobic exertion. Prolonged rest may lead to adverse reactions, such as depression, and be counterproductive.

Return to Play

Once the student-athlete returns to his or her baseline, the team physician can make a return-to-play decision. However, the decision should consider all relevant factors of the individual’s situation. The process of returning to play is gradual and involves five steps.

Return-to-play includes:

  1. Light aerobic exercise
  2. Sport-specific training without head impact
  3. Sport drills (non-contact) and progressive resistance training
  4. Unrestricted training and activity
  5. Return to the competition (with medical clearance)

A team physician should closely monitor the athlete’s condition. At any point in the process, if the student-athlete displays concussion symptoms, he or she should return to the previous amount of activity. It is important to look for signs of clinical and cognitive symptoms throughout the process.

Return to Academics

As with the return-to-play process, the return-to-learn process must be taken in steps. The brain’s energy may be hindered by the concussive injury. Therefore, it is important to take it slow and monitor the student-athlete’s ability to focus and complete academic assignments. The first step is to remain in a residence hall or home for light cognitive activity. Once normal levels of cognitive activity may be completed without symptoms of a concussion, the athlete may be allowed back into the classroom setting. Athletic trainers, physicians, and faculty members should work together to determine the readiness of the student-athlete to continue academic efforts.

For more serious, prolonged symptoms of a concussion (that persist longer than 2 weeks), a modified academic schedule and coursework may be necessary. Special arrangements for assignments, papers, projects, tests, and absences could help relieve the academic burden on the injured student. If such modifications are required, the student can go to the college’s learning specialists or to the Office of Disability Services on campus to pursue this avenue.

Shrader & Associates L.L.P. Passionately Represents Victims of Concussions

If you have sustained a concussion, our sports concussion lawyers at Shrader & Associates L.L.P. can provide diligent representation. Whether your injury resulted from basketball, football, ice hockey, volleyball, soccer, or some other sports activity, we can investigate the situation to determine if your injury was preventable. Coaches and others have a responsibility to keep players safe by providing adequate safety equipment, instructing players on the risks of concussions, and using efficient return-to-play policies. At our firm, we can passionately represent you as you pursue compensation for medical bills, pain and suffering, and other damages.

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