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Concussion Rate May Be Rapidly Rising for Student-Athletes, Study Finds

The rate of concussions in student-athletes may have more than quadrupled in the past decade, according to a new study in the American Journal of Sports Medicine.

The study, which examines 25 schools in a large public high school system, found that for every 10,000 times student-athletes stepped onto a playing field in 1997, there was slightly more than one concussion reported. Compare that with 2008, where there were roughly five concussions reported for every 10,000 times student-athletes went onto playing fields.

The study examines six boys' and six girls' sports and observed a total of 2,651 concussions throughout 10,926,892 "athlete exposures" (times an athlete was on the playing field), with boys' sports accounting for 75 percent of all the concussions. The study found that the concussion rate among all student-athletes in the study rose 15.5 percent annually between 1997 and 2008, and found that in similar boys'/girls' sports, girls had approximately twice the concussion risk of boys. The concussion rate in all 12 sports increased over the duration of the study.

"Certainly the recognition of signs and symptoms of concussion have increased dramatically among the players, coaches, athletic trainers, and physicians," study author Andrew Lincoln told Reuters Health. "Also, there's the issue of players performing better, getting stronger and getting faster." Lincoln heads the Sports Medicine Research Center at Union Memorial Hospital in Baltimore.

If Lincoln's comments sound familiar, that's probably because a panel of doctors from Children's Hospital of Alabama also recently attributed concussion awareness to the rise in diagnosis of concussions in student-athletes. In other words, many of these same concussions that were caught and diagnosed in 2008 may have simply been ignored in 1997.

In other concussion-related news, legislation is advancing in three states aimed specifically at student-athletes.

In Illinois, the state House passed a bill on Wednesday that would bar student-athletes suspected of concussions from returning to competition until receiving a doctor's clearance. Schools will also be forced to educate teachers, students, and parents on concussions symptoms, requiring parents and student-athletes to sign a waiver. The bill is now off to the Senate.

In Wyoming, the Senate and House passed a compromise bill that requires the state Dept. of Ed. to design a model protocol for districts to reference when they're developing their own concussion standards. The billRequires Adobe Acrobat Reader also requires coaches to receive training regarding the recognition of concussions and prohibits student-athletes suspected of a concussion from returning to the field of competition without receiving a doctor's clearance. The bill is headed to Gov. Matt Mead's desk for his signature.

And in Iowa, former NFL player Matt Blair has thrown his support behind student-athlete concussion legislation that was introduced Monday in a state Senate committee. The bill passed the committee unanimously. Kenneth Edmonds, director of government relations and public policy for the NFL, also spoke out in support of the Iowa legislation on Monday.

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