On this week's "Techknow," contributor Kyle Hill explores the technology dedicated to studying concussions and other brain injuries in American football. Though the National Football League's (NFL) struggles with concussions have been in the spotlight in 2013, other professional U.S. sports leagues have also recently updated policies to account for emerging information on concussions and how to minimize risk.
Here's how some of the major U.S. sports stack up:
An NFL team's medical staff evaluates players who have taken serious head hits and determine whether a player can return to the field. Though not required by league rules, baseline testing became more commonly used by NFL medical staff in 2008. Neurocognitive baseline comparisons were added to official protocol in 2009, and it's recommended that a player who has lost consciousness at any point should not return to a game or practice, regardless of whether a concussion is diagnosed.
Major League Baseball (MLB) players who suffer hits to the head are required to have baseline testing done for a concussion. It wasn’t required in the original policy but often used. In 2011’s updates to the league’s brain injury policy, neurological testing became mandatory. A team's athletic trainer and medical staff determine whether a player should return to play. The team's head doctor gets to make the official call.
While head injuries in National Basketball Association (NBA) games do occur, incidences of brain injury are so low in comparison to other major sports that the NBA didn’t begin to establish league-wide guidelines until December 2011. Current policy includes baseline cognitive testing and requires that any player diagnosed not return to play until he is symptom-free.
The National Hockey League (NHL) has used various forms of baseline cognitive testing since the late 1990s to evaluate whether players have sustained brain injuries. Early policy only required players to be evaluated by team staff on the bench, but it was common for physicians and trainers to move players to a quiet room for basic testing to determine cognitive function. In 2011, the NHL officially banned checks to the head and made "Quiet Room" evaluation baseline testing mandatory.
Major League Soccer (MLS) has unofficially used neurocognitive baseline testing since 2003. In 2010, the league put together a committee dedicated to evaluating concussion incidences and determining prevention methods. Their official policy was implemented in 2011.
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