Re­search con­tin­ues on ef­fects of con­cus­sions

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - SPORTS - RICK FIRES

ROGERS — Arkansas and Texas are long­time ri­vals on the foot­ball field, but both pro­grams are on the same team when it comes to player safety.

The Longhorns are the first Power Five pro­gram to wear hel­mets that in­clude sen­sors to mon­i­tor hard hits to the head. The Ra­zor­backs haven’t gone high tech yet, but their of­fen­sive and de­fen­sive line­man are wear­ing padded cush­ions on the out­side of the hel­mets dur­ing prac­tice.

The moves are part of a grow­ing ef­fort and aware­ness against head in­juries that can lead to se­ri­ous health prob­lems.

“Con­cus­sions are a con­tro­ver­sial topic, and I re­al­ize that,” said R.J. El­bin, an as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor in ex­er­cise science at the Univer­sity of Arkansas. “But foot­ball is a great sport when done right.”

El­bin was one of the fea­tured speak­ers dur­ing the Mercy Coach­ing Sum­mit at the Em­bassy Suites in Rogers last week. El­bin’s nearly one-hour pre­sen­ta­tion came on the heels of a re­port on brain dis­ease linked to re­peated blows to the head that gar­nered plenty of na­tional at­ten­tion.

A study con­ducted by re­searchers at a Bos­ton brain bank found chronic trau­matic en­cephalopa­thy in 110 of 111 brains of de­ceased for­mer foot­ball play­ers, most of them from the NFL. Many sci­en­tists be­lieve re­peated blows to the head in­crease the risk for de­vel­op­ing CTE, but even re­searchers in the Bos­ton study stressed other vari­ables could be in play.

“The re­sults are in­ter­est­ing, but we need more re­search, as the au­thors have stated,” said El­bin, a for­mer

op­tion quar­ter­back in high school who has spe­cial­ized in con­cus­sion re­search for nearly a decade. “The study high­lights a po­ten­tial con­se­quence of con­cus­sion. How­ever, there are a lot of vari­ables here that haven’t been ad­dressed, and there are other sports be­sides foot­ball that cer­tainly need to be con­sid­ered.”

While cause and af­fect are still largely un­known, there is no doubt there is greater aware­ness at all lev­els in sports about con­cus­sions and po­ten­tial harm to the brain. Even in high school, the de­ci­sion on whether a player needs to sit out af­ter a hard hit is left in the hands of an ath­letic trainer and not the coach.

That’s true at all pub­lic schools in Arkansas, from the large pro­grams in the 7A-West Con­fer­ence to the smaller pro­grams in the state.

“When a kid tells me he has a headache, we sit him out and let the trainer make the de­ci­sion,” Greenland coach Lee Larkan said. “We’re not trained well enough to do it. Prob­a­bly, 20 years ago, there were a lot more con­cus­sions that were not di­ag­nosed and now, maybe, there’s sit­u­a­tions that are over-di­ag­nosed. But as a rule, it’s bet­ter to be safe than sorry.”

El­bin rec­om­mends that high schools es­tab­lish a task force in the treat­ment of con­cus­sions with coaches, train­ers, teach­ers and school per­son­nel work­ing to­gether as a team.

“If you got your bell rung when I played, you got some smelling sauce and went right back out there,” said Ben­tonville West coach Bryan Pratt, who sat in the front row dur­ing El­bin’s pre­sen­ta­tion. “The con­cus­sion is­sue is re­ally com­pli­cated be­cause dif­fer­ent kids can re­act in dif­fer­ent ways. But you have to trust your ath­letic train­ers and the peo­ple who work with that, be­cause it’s their spe­cialty. It’s all about what’s best for the kids be­cause you don’t want to do any­thing to jeop­ar­dize their fu­ture.”

The stan­dard re­cov­ery time for most play­ers who’ve had con­cus­sions used to be viewed as seven to 10 days, which, con­ve­niently, meant play­ers wouldn’t miss more than one game. But the re­search has got­ten more se­ri­ous, and re­cov­ery time is now ac­cepted as at least two to three weeks for most con­cus­sions.

“If a player con­tin­ues to play af­ter a con­cus­sion, that dou­bles the re­cov­ery time,” El­bin said. “You wouldn’t run on an in­jured an­kle, so why should you try to play af­ter an in­jury to your head? Con­cus­sions fight dirty. What­ever you have is go­ing to be af­fected.”

“You wouldn’t run on an in­jured an­kle, so why should you try to play af­ter an in­jury to your head? Con­cus­sions fight dirty. What­ever you have is go­ing to be af­fected.”

— Dr. R.J. El­bin, as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of Arkansas

NWA Demo­crat-Gazette/BEN GOFF • @NWABENGOFF

NWA Demo­crat-Gazette/BEN GOFF • @NWABENGOFF

At­ten­dees (top photo) lis­ten as Dr. R.J. El­bin, as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of Arkansas, gives a talk ti­tled “New Re­search De­vel­op­ments for Con­cus­sion in High School Sports” on Thurs­day dur­ing the Mercy Coach­ing Sum­mit at the John. Q. Ham­mons Cen­ter in Rogers. El­bin (left photo) dis­cusses con­cus­sions re­search and its im­pli­ca­tions for high school sports.

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