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Concussion guidelines game-changer for athletes

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By The Los Angeles Times
Wednesday, March 20, 2013, 6:18 p.m.

Concussion research has yet to turn up therapies that can diminish the consequences of a mild traumatic brain injury or shorten the duration of its symptoms, the nation's leading group of neurologists concluded.

But in athletics, there is one step that can avert lengthening symptoms or exacerbating damage from a blow to the head, the American Academy of Neurology wrote: Take the athlete out of the game or off the practice field when a concussion is suspected, and delay his or her return to play until the all-clear has been issued by a trainer or physician skilled in diagnosing and treating brain injury.

In guidelines issued by the academy, coaches and sideline trainers are urged to be particularly conservative in applying those rules to younger athletes, those who've had past concussions, those who practice fewer than three hours a week and those who play in a game, such as hockey, in which body-checking is routine.

The new set of guidelines is the first update to the medical specialists' recommendations since 1997. It underscores the value of putting athletes through a battery of cognitive tests before they begin participating in a sport.

The neurologists concluded that those “baseline assessments,” which are increasingly required among high school and college-level athletic programs, give physicians, coaches and athletic trainers a firmer footing on which to decide when a concussed athlete has regained his or her pre-injury cognitive function and can safely return to play.

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