High School Sports-Related Concussions on the Rise in Hawaii

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When you think about high school sports, your alma mater (or your child’s school) may come to mind, or maybe homecoming week, fanatical crowds or long practices. But Ross Oshiro, the athletic healthcare trainer coordinator for the state Department of Education, wants you to think about the darker side of sports: injuries—namely concussions.

“Concussions are typically underreported,” he says. And they don’t just happen when a linebacker takes a brain-rattling tackle. “A concussion can happen at any time, or in any sport, [such as] skateboarding, cheerleading or tennis,” Oshiro says.

To better educate coaches, trainers and parents, as well as care for students in contact sports, this summer the DOE officially started its concussion management program,  after a two-year pilot project. The program includes all public high school athletics and is coordinated in conjunction with the Department of Health and the University of Hawaii. (Private schools have their own concussion protocols.)

High school students in contact sports are now required to participate in balance assessments and computerized cognitive testing, called ImPACT (Immediate Post-Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing). After a physician diagnoses a concussion, the student gets reassessed and his or her scores are compared with their pre-injury results to determine when he or she can play sports again and return to school.

Recognizing the symptoms of a concussion is integral to proper treatment. This is the brain we’re talking about after all. “The most important treatment for a concussion is the physical and cognitive test, which means no texting, video games, computer or physical activity,” says Oshiro.

So not only can’t students return to sports until they’ve been medically approved, many are taken out of school temporarily as well. Oshiro says there is no average recovery time. Some students feel fine within days, others take several weeks. “Typically younger students, 9th and 10th graders take longer to recover because the brain is still developing,” he says, adding that girls tend to recover more slowly.

Oshiro says that, since the department developed the concussion protocol, the number of reported concussions has increased. For example, in the 2007-2008 school year, there were 213 reported concussions. The following year it increased to 314. And last school year, there were 446 reported concussions statewide.

But Oshiro says the increase isn’t because sports are getting more dangerous. “It doesn’t mean that there are more concussions,” he says. “People are just more aware. Kids didn’t know they had a concussion, their parents didn’t know.”

Football players aren’t the only ones getting concussions either. “The second highest sport with reported concussions is girls soccer,” says Oshiro.

It’s also an issue being discussed nationally, both in Mainland athletics programs and within the NFL and the NHL.

Locally, the DOE is hoping to spread the word to trainers, athletes and parents through its free coaches’ clinics on concussions. One is being held tonight at the MM Scott Auditorium at McKinley High School from 6 to 8 p.m. Oshiro, and DOH and UH employees will be on hand to give the presentation. “The more people we educate, the more people are aware,” he says.

Visit the Centers for Disease Control for the signs and symptoms of a concussion.