LANSING - Michigan will soon require K-12 schools to create awareness programs to educate coaches, parents and athletes on the perils of sports concussions.
Meanwhile, the effort to raise awareness about the signs, symptoms and consequences of concussions is growing statewide.
A concussion is a serious brain injury caused by a blow to the head. It often happens to participants in sports or other recreational activities.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, emergency rooms in the U.S. treat an estimated 173,285 children and adolescents for concussion injuries each year.
The highest number of concussions occurs in boys' football and girls' soccer, according to the agency.
The Department of Community Health provides educational materials on concussion injury on a new website (www.michigan.gov/sportsconcussion).
Its resources include online training courses from the CDC's Heads Up Program, which teaches about brain injury prevention and treatment.
Heads Up partners in Michigan include the Detroit Lions, the Brain Injury Association of Michigan, the Michigan High School Athletic Association and Wayne State University.
James Haveman, director of the department, said he hopes the new law will prevent the life-altering effects of sports-related concussions.
"Concussions are a very serious injury that can change a young athlete's life forever," Haveman said. "With more awareness about the signs, symptoms and consequences of concussions and prompt removal from play when a concussion is suspected, this law will help to preserve future health and academic performance of student athletes."
In addition to providing its own educational resources, the department's website also explains the new law and how to comply with it.
Under the law, groups or organizations that sponsor an athletic activity - games, competitions and practices - must require all adults involved to participate in a concussion awareness program.
That applies to coaches, employees, parents and volunteers.
Parents and athletes must file a statement with their organization acknowledging that they received training materials.
The law also requires immediately removing athletes from competition if a concussion is suspected, and provides stricter guidelines for medical clearance and when they can return to play.
Guidelines are becoming more stringent on the national level as well. In March, the American Academy of Neurology released its first updated guidelines since 1997 for managing athletes with head injuries.
Jeffrey Kutcher, an associate professor of neurology at the University of Michigan Medical School, helped write the new guidelines.
"If in doubt, sit it out," Kutcher said. "Being seen by a trained professional is extremely important after a concussion. If headaches or other symptoms return with the start of exercise, stop the activity and consult a doctor.
"You only get one brain, so treat it well," he said.
Wayne State's Biomedical Engineering Department is continuing to research the medical implications of concussions.
Researchers there have developed a human head model that mimics the brain's reaction to hard impacts.
Using X-ray technology and administering blows with and without protective helmets, they've worked with the model to help determine the threshold for concussions in American football.
But Sen. John Proos, R-St. Joseph - who sponsored the concussion law - was quick to point out that such brain injuries can happen to any child, not just athletes.
"While this initiative is designed for youth sports, education about concussions will also benefit parents off the field," Proos said. "People focus on football injuries, but accidents while bicycling and playing on the playground actually rank first and third in the number of brain injury ER visits."
Michigan is 39th state to establish laws that regulate concussion awareness and when students can play again. The laws will go into full effect in June.
Students on Royal Oak High School's football team got a head start on concussion awareness when they participated in a program through Royal Oak Beaumont's Neuroscience Center last July.
The players learned about symptoms and took online screening tests, which can help determine whether an athlete has a concussion.
According to Neil Alpiner, chief of pediatric physical medicine and rehabilitation at the hospital, a concussed athlete's results will be dramatically different than those from an uninjured athlete.
However, he stressed that while symptom awareness will help, nothing can replace a physician's checkup. "The online test is an important aid, but the interpretation of the results should be done by a physician who specializes in concussions," Alpiner said.
EDITOR'S NOTE:?Celeste Bott writes for Capital News Service.