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Hitting Young Players Hard

No athlete should be allowed to participate in sports if he or she is still experiencing symptoms from a concussion, according to the American Academy of Neurology. And before they go back to play, they should first see a doctor who's had proper training to make sure they're ready.

That often doesn't happen, though. Many concussions go unreported. Athletes are often eager to get back in the game. They may think they feel fine, or at least good enough.

"The long-term effects of a few concussions on the young athlete is an incomplete book," Lovell says. "We're just starting to scratch the surface"

"You don’t have to play for a number of years in the NFL to have brain trauma that can cause long-term damage," Cantu says. "You can pick up enough of that trauma just playing in high school and college."

High school athletes who have suffered as few as two concussions may already have the signs of “post-concussion syndrome,” researchers reported in January 2011.

They found that young athletes who had had at least two concussions were more likely to have:

  • Brain symptoms, such as memory problems or feeling mentally "foggy."
  • Physical symptoms, including headaches, problems with balance, or feeling dizzy.
  • Sleep symptoms -- specifically, sleeping either more or less than they normally would.

A major problem for young athletes is that high school and even some college programs may not have the resources to protect their players from concussion.

"At the professional and, to a lesser extent, the collegiate level, everybody's trying to protect these athletes from getting hurt. But at the lower level, it's not managed as well," says Connecticut neurologist Anthony Alessi, MD. 

"There's not usually a doctor on the sidelines at a high school football game to evaluate an athlete after a concussion," Lovell says. "And most high school football teams don't have athletic trainers."

Schools often cite cost as the problem.

"Many high schools say they can't afford to have an athletic trainer. I say that means you can't afford to have a program," Alessi says. "If you can't afford to make the program safe, then you should be closing it up."

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