MU Health Care takes first steps in addressing football’s concussion crisis | Mid-Missouri News

COLUMBIA – MU Health Care announced its intention to establish a sports-concussion clinic in order to address and treat the growing number of head injuries resulting from football.

Dr. Komal Aschraf, a MU Health Care neurologist, stated that concussions have become so serious that the company has opened a clinic to address them.

The center will be located in Columbia and will be focused on “early evaluation and intervention”When it comes to diagnosing or educating patients about head injuries.

“It’s a combined effort with neurology and orthopedics and PMNR [physical medicine and rehabilitation] and our rehab services,” Dr. Ashraf said.

Concussions at all levels are not a new phenomenon. At the highest level, the NFL didn’t even acknowledge the link between football and concussions until 2009Despite being under pressure for it since 1994. 

Missouri’s high school and youth football programs are not different. Each state has a concussion protocol that student athletes must follow. The protocol requires that the athlete be removed from the game immediately and educated about concussions while they are recovering. They can only return to play after passing a test and being cleared by a doctor.

Missouri is the only state to take this extra step in concussion protection. It was the only state that required schools to track and report student concussions on a log, as a way to monitor the trend in football concussions.

It is overseen by the Missouri State High School Activities Association and the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services.

How can we protect players while not destroying the game? It is a physical game after all. Dr Ashraf says, education.

“Patient education is very important in all fields of medicine,” Dr. Ashraf explained. “It’s important for prevention and also within the teams so that they can be the first to recognize signs and symptoms of a concussion.”

Younger age groups are especially vulnerable to concussions, and have a harder time recovering. Brain matter can be lost if you sustain repeated concussions.

“Unfortunately there is no magic number for that,” Dr. Ashraf said. “We have to take into consideration the age of the patient, their activity level, and how their recovery is between concussions. People who have repeated concussions, we can see injury to the brain and that can actually result in volume loss and will present itself with mood changes, headaches and overall difficulty for that person to be productive.” 

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Although all sports can be injured, the correlation between football and concussions is too strong to ignore. According to the MSHSAA 33.5% of all football-related injuries occurred during the 2020-2021 season.

It was 1,369 cases of head injuries. Cheerleading was the next highest sport with 345. 

The Missouri State High School Sports Athletic Association published the following chart, which shows the number and severity of head injuries in each sport for the 2019-20 season. 

Cole Blackburn, an Hickman High School coach said it doesn’t matter if helmets have been redesigned or new rules implemented.

“You can tweak the helmets and make all the rules you want, but there’s always going to be that odd hit that smacks your head into the ground,” Blackburn said.

“It’s the nature of the game and if you ask these kids, they all want to be here. It’s all about the risks the students and their parents are willing to take,” Blackburn continued 

Enrollment is also being affected by concussions. Fewer children are signing up for football. 

A report from National Federation of High School Associations found that youth football numbers are falling rapidly. The number of children registered to play youth and school tackle football has declined from 2.5 million to 1 million between 2008 and 2019.

Cedric Alvis, head coach of the Hickman Kewpies football team, said while he hasn’t noticed the decline in enrollment, he has noticed the increase in head injuries. 

“As a coach, I know what [the players] look like, so anytime you come to the sideline and you are not responding the way I need you to or something doesn’t look right, I’d rather be safe than sorry,” Alvis said.

According to Coach Alvis, however, football is moving in the right direction compared to just a few years ago.

“It’s a type of play thing.” Alvis explained. “We teach our children how to tackle at their legs and not head to head. It’s a matter of genetics, and everyone is different. To keep themselves safe, players are becoming more aware their playing style. 

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