Concussion education essential for student athletes, parents alike

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PHOENIX -- Nearly 30 states have laws requiring concussion education for student athletes, but Arizona is leading the nation, taking that education a step further. Not only is concussion education mandated for young Arizona athletes, but they also have to pass a formal test before they can play.

A concussion is a traumatic brain injury that temporarily interferes with how the brain functions. Because concussion does not always involve loss of consciousness and the symptoms can be relatively mild, a person can have a concussion and not even realize it.

Recovery can take time, which means there is a risk of second impact syndrome, which is a second concussion before symptoms from the first have abated. That increases the risk of potentially deadly brain swelling.

Doctors now believe the effect of repeated concussions -- even mild concussions -- is cumulative, resulting in serious long-term problems. That's what the state of Arizona is trying to prevent.

Dr. Javier Cárdenas, a neurologist at Barrow Neurological Institute, sat down with Kaley O'Kelley to explain why it's essential for both parents and their kids to learn about the dangers of concussion.

Cárdenas,a  specialist in child neurology, has taken the lead on the issue of concussion prevention and research here in Arizona.

"The education efforts in the state are some of the best in the country," he said. "Arizona has really pushed itself forward in terms of really mandating that education and requiring it of high-school athletes."

Education is key to protecting kids, Cárdenas said. According to the data Barrow has put together, kids who have been properly educated about the dangers of concussion are more likely to report their symptoms. What's more, they are less likely to muscle through and risk further injury.

"With this education, you'll find the kids -- the athletes themselves -- are cognizant enough to take themselves out of the game and report their symptoms," Cárdenas said. “There are approximately 3 million sports-related concussions nationally each year. Players recognizing the signs and symptoms of concussion can prevent death and disability."

With the spotlight on concussion and the potential long-term damage it can cause, many parents are wondering if they should keep their kids out of contact sports altogether.

Cárdenas said there are enough benefits to sports that he would never recommend that parents keep their kids on the sidelines, but he stressed that parents and student athletes alike need to be educated so everybody can make good decisions.

"A little education can go a long way," he said.