SAN DIEGO, Sept. 28 /PRNewswire/ -- In the last few years, sports participation among high school aged kids has increased, but so have the number of sports-related concussions.
Recently the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF), the state's governing body for high school athletics, issued new guidelines on how to respond to possible concussions. CIF has deemed it mandatory that any athlete suspected of suffering a concussion be immediately removed from play and receive a signed authorization from a "licensed health care provider trained in the evaluation and management of concussions," in order to return-to-play (RTP).
Michael West, certified athletic trainer and president of the California Athletic Trainers' Association (CATA), agrees with what's being touted as the "when in doubt – sit them out" rule, but the question is, who decides when a player should come out?
"In an ideal world, that person would be a certified athletic trainer, and they would be on the sidelines of every school in California," says West. "But right now, athletic trainers are not 'licensed health care providers' by state definition."
California is one of only three states in the country without a system of checks and balances to regulate the athletic training profession, meaning anyone can label him/herself an athletic trainer without holding the proper credentials – giving athletes, parents and coaches a false sense of safety and leaving athletes at risk.
Instead, the new CIF guidelines depend on coaches and referees, who will be required to take a course in concussion recognition, to make the initial decision to pull a player out. But placing all the responsibility on them, in addition to their other duties, increases the chances that a player might continue playing through a concussion.
"While a class may teach coaches and referees the common symptoms to look out for, it's not always cut and dry. Sometimes the signs of a concussion can be subtle or might not even appear immediately," says West. "In some case an athlete might have received what looked like a glancing blow, but there's still a chance of concussion – certified athletic trainers can spot these instances and act accordingly because we're experts on concussions."
"This is why we [CATA] have been fighting so hard to pass legislature that would require state regulation of our profession," explains West.
For the past seven years, the CATA has proposed legislation that calls for state regulation of athletic training and would require stricter guidelines on athlete safety. Most recently, AB 1647 would have provided title protection of athletic trainers allowing only those that have been board certified and have all the necessary education to call themselves an athletic trainer.
More than just the stereotypical ankle taper or dispenser of ice, a certified athletic trainer's role goes beyond managing catastrophic injuries: these physical medicine specialists provide prevention, recognition, clinical assessment, treatment, rehabilitation, and reconditioning of illnesses and injuries, like concussions, that are sustained during activity. In some cases, their on-site medical services, both preventative and immediate care, can make the difference between life and death.
So while schools that do employ a certified athletic trainer reap the benefits of their knowledge in concussions to determine when it's time to remove a player, those that do not are at a severe disadvantage and the end result is that the kids are not safe.
Only 42 percent of schools nationwide employ a full-time athletic trainer and only 15 to 20 percent of California schools have access to one.
"Our ultimate goal is for the state to require licensure for all athletic trainers and for every school in California to employ one," says West. "The best way to keep our kids safe is to know that there's someone on the sidelines we can trust watching out for them."
About the California Athletic Trainers' Association (CATA):
Athletic trainers are health care professionals who specialize in the provision of physical medicine and rehabilitation services, serving as physician extenders in the prevention, assessment and treatment of acute and chronic injuries and illnesses. Athletic trainers are the only medical professionals that are specifically trained and required to recognize, diagnose and treat exertional heat illness. The California Athletic Trainers' Association (http://www.ca-at.org) represents and supports 2,200 members of the athletic training profession through communication and education.
SOURCE California Athletic Trainers' Association