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Free UCLA event focused on preventing high school sports head injuries

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Each year, 1.6 to 3.8 million concussions result from sports injuries in the United States and almost nine 9% of all US high school sports injuries involve concussions. In recent years, much attention has been focused on reducing the incidence of these injuries at the levels of youth sports, high school, college, and professional. On Tuesday, July 8, Assemblyman Ken Cooley and the UCLA Steve Tisch BrainSPORT Program are co-hosting a large-screen video presentation and expert panel geared toward parents, board of education members, principals, athletic directors, coaches, team doctors, and athletic trainers. Football stars will screen techniques for high school players that comply with proposed law to reduce youth concussions.

To gain insight into the problem, I consulted with one of the panel members, Dr. Christopher Giza, director of the UCLA Steve Tisch BrainSPORT Program and professor of neurosurgery and pediatric neurology at the David Geffen School of Medicine and Mattel Children's Hospital UCLA. In numerous occasions, he has dealt with the aftermath of sports-related head injuries. He notes that the highest incidence of injuries occurs with contact sports such as football, ice hockey, and lacrosse. They also occur in non-contact sports such as basketball and soccer because collisions occasionally occur. They can even occur in sports such as track and field.

One might think that Dr. Giza would have a stance against sports where head injuries can occur; however, he is of the opinion that sports among teens and young adults such as building character, enhancing physical condition, raising self-esteem, and teamwork. Thus, his focus is on educating, players, parents, coaches, and other involved individuals in techniques to reduce the incidence of head injuries and what one should do if he or she suffers one. The brain is encased in the skull for protection: it is a fragile, jelly-like structure. When a blow is struck to the head or a rapid acceleration or deceleration of the head occurs, the brain bangs against the rigid skull. Dr. Giza noted that helmets greatly reduce the risk of severe injury such as skull fractures and internal bleeding of the brain; however, they do not lessen the chance of brain injury from a rapid deceleration or deceleration.

Dr. Giza notes that loss of consciousness occurs in approximately 10% of concussions; however, even if loss of consciousness does not occur, in many instances a player should stay out of the game until full recovery, as determined from a healthcare professional occurs. He cites the analogy of a bad ankle sprain that takes the individual off the playing field until recovery occurs. Sadly, many players are motivated to return to the game as soon as possible, motivate by their own desire, their coaches, and or their parents. These individuals are at a 300% increased risk of a repeat concussion; however, it currently is not known how much that increased risk relates to permanent brain injury. Researchers expects it is greater, but it remains to be proven. Dr. Giza notes that a player who returns to the game shortly after the game usually does not benefit his team because his coordination and thought processes are impaired.

Dr. Giza noted that from 60% to 75% of head trauma in high school football is suffered during practice, not during games. The video demonstrations will highlight the non-contact and limited-contact techniques that have made NFL and college football practice safer than high school practice. Panel member Assemblyman Ken Cooley has introduced Assembly Bill 2127, which would limit high-impact contact in California high school football practice to three hours per week, within the already-approved guideline of 18 total hours of practice per week. In the past 16 months, 12 other states have begun considering such legislation. Assemblyman Cooley's bill has passed the State Assembly and Senate and now awaits Gov. Jerry Brown's signature. If it is approved, California would become the first state to enact a law to restrict high school practice-field contact.

In addition to Dr. Giza and Assemblyman Cooley, panel members will include:

  • Warren Moon, nine-time Pro Bowl selection and 2006 Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee after 23 years as a professional quarterback.
  • Patrick Larimore, UCLA defensive Most Valuable Player and 2011 football team captain who was forced to retire from the sport after suffering multiple concussions.
  • Terry O'Neil, Founder/CEO of Practice Like Pros, a national movement to reduce contact on high school football practice fields.
  • Roger Blake, Executive Director of California Interscholastic Federation.
  • The clinic also will include video contributions from Stanford Head Coach David Shaw, Dartmouth Head Coach Buddy Teevens and NFL Hall of Famer Mike Ditka.

The event will run from 12:30 p.m. to 2 p.m. on Tuesday, July 8. It will be held at the Palisades Ballroom in UCLA's Carnesale Commons. Attendance is free; however it is limited and parking will be available for $12/day. Click on this link to RSVP.

Additional information on sports conduction provided by the American Academy of Neurology is available at this link.