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New Va. Concussion Law Brings Stricter Rules For Student Athletes

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Virginia law now requires student athletes showing signs of concussion to be removed from the court or the playing field immediately after the incident.
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Virginia law now requires student athletes showing signs of concussion to be removed from the court or the playing field immediately after the incident.

Local athletic trainers say this is a positive step, but there's still a lot to learn about treating concussions.

Shane Caswell, an associate professor of athletic training at George Mason University, helped conduct a study of concussions in the Fairfax County school system.

"We found that there was a 4.5-fold increase in the county over an 11-year period, something that certainly warrants attention," Caswell says.

Much of that increase can be attributed to greater public awareness of concussion symptoms, Caswell adds. John Reynolds, athletic trainer at Marshall High School in Falls Church, says that's a good thing.

"The increase in incidents is probably related to more people more willing to step forward and say something happened," Reynolds says.

Reynolds says new rules about taking athletes off the field immediately won't change anything in Fairfax, or other Northern Virginia school districts, which have had similar policies for years. But it does make those rules uniform across the commonwealth.

Coaches also say they support the new rule, although they add that they've always focused on the safety of the players. Robert Jackson, is the head football coach at Selem High School in Virginia Beach during the school year, but in the summer, he teaches campers the proper way to tackle at the Brian Orakpo football camp in Fairfax

"Anything that promotes safety for the kids is a good thing," Jackson says.

Jackson says it's a mistake to think that coaches weren't already concerned about head injuries and proper technique to avoid them before scientists began to study concussions.

"Before concussions, we were worried about getting kids paralyzed, so it's always been at the forefront of every coach," he says.

Reynolds says students, parents and medical professionals still need to err on the side of caution after a concussion occurs.

"How long an individual is affected by a concussion is not a question that is easily answered," he says. "We don't know how bad a concussion is and how long it's going to take to recover until its over."

Athletic trainers in Fairfax County also say it's important for concussion victims to get cognitive rest in addition to physical rest during recovery.

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