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Education needed to deal with youth sports concussions

Most experts agree that the best way to prevent concussions is education.

Research indicates that youths are more susceptible to brain damage, and long-term problems appear more likely if an athlete returns to play before his or her brain has had a chance to heal.

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“Parents don’t realize how much they need to reduce their child’s level of activity after they’ve had even a minor concussion,” said Jessica Harney, director of rehabilitation services for Medford-based Hallmark Health System. “No text messaging, no Xbox, no TV, no Facebook. They really need to give their brain that rest.”

Females and younger athletes may take longer to recover from concussions, according to a study published in April in the American Journal of Sports Medicine.

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Under a 2010 state law, injured middle and high school students must return to play gradually and ­only after medical clearance. As part of their recovery, they sometimes have to take a break from class work as well.

The rules, which took effect last school year, require schools to provide annual training to students, parents, and staff on how to recognize and respond to head injuries. School districts are also required to submit data on head injuries to the state Department of Public Health.

The law applies to public middle and high schools as well as private schools subject to the rules of the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association.

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When it comes to preventing head injuries, the best use of time and money is education, said Chris Nowinski, cofounder and executive director of the Boston-based Sports Legacy Institute, which works to advance concussion-related issues.

“I still believe 90 percent of concussions are not diagnosed.”

Lisa Kocian can be reached at lkocian@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @GlobeLisaKocian.
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