FRIDAY, Feb. 5, 2010 (HealthDay News) -- Efforts to improve treatment of concussions in youth sports are making headway on several fronts: Washington state's new laws governing head injuries in scholastic sports will get big play Sunday at Super Bowl XLIV, and Texas researchers report that an online test can help athletic trainers and doctors determine when it's safe for an athlete to return to the field after a concussion.
"Players often return to the field before they should, thinking they just got their 'bell rung' and that everything will be fine," Dr. Damond Blueitt, a primary care and sports medicine physician at Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital Fort Worth, said in a news release.
But concussions, which Blueitt calls "mild traumatic brain injury," can be severe, causing confusion, amnesia and other problems. In rare cases, concussions can be fatal.
The researchers report that more than 15,000 North Texas athletes from 83 local schools and clubs have undergone baseline online evaluation since 2008 through the Concussion Management Program at Texas Health Sports Medicine.
The idea is to see how their brains work under normal circumstances; the athletes can take the test again if they have suffered a concussion. About one in 30 have done so, the researchers noted.
The tests provide guidance as to when athletes can begin playing again. Before that time, they're advised to take it easy. "We recommend a period of total rest, not just from sports, but from classes, studying, video games, even text messaging," Ken Locker, a certified athletic trainer at Texas Health Sports Medicine, said in the news release.
An estimated half of all high school football players suffer a concussion during each season. About one-third report having more than one in a season, meaning they're at higher risk of long-lasting brain damage.
Laws enacted last year in Washington and Oregon -- the first concussion laws covering school sports -- require that coaches be educated about concussions and that players suspected of suffering a concussion be stopped from practice or play until receiving medical clearance.
The state law in Washington is named for a middle-school student who suffered a brain injury in 2006 after getting a concussion playing football and returning to play too soon. The Zackery Lystedt Brain Project, which is considered a model for other states to follow, will be formally kicked off at the Super Bowl, according to The New York Times. Other states with similar laws pending include New York, New Jersey, Florida and Massachusetts.
The U.S. National Library of Medicine has more on concussions.