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For Expert Comment: High Schools Need to be Better Prepared to Handle Student-Athlete Concussions, MU Brain Injury Expert says

Bill in Missouri legislature and other states is a step in the right direction

May 3rd, 2011

Story Contact: Christian Basi, 573-882-4430,

The views and opinions expressed in this “for expert comment” release are based on research and/or opinions of the researcher(s) and/or faculty member(s) and do not reflect the University’s official stance.

COLUMBIA, Mo. ­— Today, the Missouri state legislature heard testimony from an NFL player on a bill that would mandate high schools to educate their student-athletes about concussions and remove those athletes from games when they sustain head injuries until they can be evaluated by a licensed health care provider trained in treating concussions. One University of Missouri expert in brain trauma told the Missouri lawmakers that this is a necessary step in the right direction to protect young athletes.

MU Health Professions Researcher Thomas Martin is pushing to pass legislation that would regulate how high schools address head injuries sustained by student-athletes.

“Each year, between 140,000 and 150,000 high school athletes sustain concussions,” said Tom Martin, clinical associate professor and director of adult neuropsychology in the Department of Health Psychology at the MU School of Health Professions. “However, many of these injuries go unreported or are not recognized, so this estimate is probably very low.”

Martin said that because youths are still developing, concussions sustained by youths are much more serious than those sustained by adults. Student-athletes are more susceptible to the consequences of injury; thus, it might take a younger person much longer to recover compared to an adult. In addition, there is a greater risk for developing learning or mental disabilities for youth that sustain brain injuries, Martin said.

“Most adults will be completely clear of symptoms within a few weeks unlike a young athlete. So when you return a youth to play quickly, they are probably not fully recovered,” Martin said. “Although they are rare, deaths related to kids that have been put back into play when they have not completely recovered from concussions occur. We have high hopes that the legislature will pass this important bill. It’s our understanding that the bill’s sponsors are hoping to bring it to a vote before the end of the current session.”

The National Football League has joined with medical officials across the nation and the Brain Injury Association of Missouri to seek passage of legislation similar to legislation passed in the state of Washington in 2009. The “Lystedt Law” was named after Zackery Lystedt, a teenager who sustained a serious brain injury during a school football game in 2006. Following his injury, he remained in the game and sustained another head injury late in the game, resulting in a life-threatening brain injury.

Martin, who played football in high school and college and for a semi-professional team, is board certified in Clinical Neuropsychology and Rehabilitation Psychology by the American Board of Professional Psychology. He is a Fellow in the National Academy of Neuropsychology. Martin currently is conducting research in the area of traumatic brain injury. He is co-editor of Geriatric Neuropsychology: Practice Essentials and serves on the editorial boards of Brain Injury and Rehabilitation Psychology. Martin is immediate past-president of the Brain Injury Association of Missouri, which has been collaborating with Martin and the NFL to help pass this bill. Martin also recently served as an expert member of an invited task force that was established to develop a comprehensive report for the U.S. Congress that outlined recommendations to address the traumatic brain injury and psychological needs of returning military personnel.