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Playing It Safe in Sports

Experts at Northwestern Medicine symposium warn about the dangers of concussions

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July 27, 2011 | by Stephen Anzaldi

Kurt Becker on how concussions were viewed differently during his NFL playing days

Kurt Becker on what needs to change in football regarding concussions

Dr. Adam Bennett on the definition of a concussion

Dr. Adam Bennett on the dangers of a concussion

Brain model

Experts talked about how to identify and treat sports concussions.
CHICAGO --- The best protection against a sports-related concussion is a coach, trainer or team physician who knows when to pull injured players out of a game -- and to keep them out until they are fully recovered.

That was a key message from the symposium, "Playing It Safe: Changing the Mindset Around Concussion Safety," hosted July 27 by Northwestern Medicine.

Pro football Hall of Famer Dan Hampton, a member of the 1985 Super Bowl champion Chicago Bears, provided the keynote address.

"I played during what I call the 'crash-test for dummies' period. Players would get hit so hard they wouldn't even know how to walk off the field," Hampton said. "I wish these discussions happened back when I played. Today most people are aware of the effects of a concussion, that wasn't the case when I played."

Hampton and other panelists that included neuroscientists, orthopaedic surgeons and team physicians discussed the dangers of brain injuries in sports with area college and high school athletic directors, coaches and trainers.

"Concussions are a very real concern for young athletes and repeat blows to the head can leave kids with lingering effects," said panelist Michael Terry, associate professor of orthopaedic surgery at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and head team physician for the Chicago Blackhawks and Northwestern athletics.

Athletes are used to playing through aches and pains, but a hit to the head isn't the same as bruises to other parts of the body, the experts stressed.

They talked about how concussions happen, how to identify symptoms and the proper and safe way to treat injury. Attendees learned about what happens to the brain when a concussion occurs, return-to-play guidelines and why there's a need for a culture change in sports that eliminates the pressure to return to the playing field after what used to be casually referred to as "having your bell rung."

The event also explored the new Illinois concussion legislation -- signed this week by Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn -- including the role coaches, trainers and volunteers have in implementing the policies as teams begin playing this fall.

"We need to teach young people that helmet-to-helmet contact, for example, will not be tolerated at the professional or college levels, so there is no reason to engage in its practice at the high school level," Hampton said. "Now everyone is aware of the long-term effects of concussions, and the overarching pressure from teammates and coaches to return to play must disappear."

Panelists included Hunt Batjer, chair of neurosurgery at Feinberg and "Playing It Safe" faculty chair; Adam Bennet, assistant professor of clinical family and community medicine at Feinberg and Chicago Bears team physician; Daniel Derman, president of Northwestern Memorial Physicians Group; Sarah Edwards, assistant professor in orthopaedic surgery at Feinberg; Carrie Jaworski, head team physician for Northwestern athletics; Amy Mayber, associate general counsel at Northwestern; and Kurt Becker, high school football coach and former Chicago Bear offensive lineman.

Topics: Campus Life