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As high school and college teams gear up for the fall football season, there has been increased attention given to the issue of concussions sustained by athletes. Concussions are being treated more seriously, as evidence is mounting that repeated impact to the brain, typical in sports activities, may have lasting and serious impact.

This week, on “The Early Show,” CBS News Medical Correspondent, Dr. Jennifer Ashton said the concussion rate is up because more kids are involved in organized sports, and the practices and sporting events tend to be more competitive and intense. Football has the highest rates of traumatic brain injuries of all organized sports.

Dr. Ashton tells the story of a young football player whose tragic death has inspired others. The night before the high school student was to play in his first varsity football game, he and his dad prayed together – for safety on the football field. Unfortunately, their prayers were not answered. During a routine play in the fourth quarter, the football star took a hard blow to the side of the head by another player’s helmet causing a traumatic brain injury, which ultimately ended his life.

Similar situations occur every year, and not knowing how to recognize the signs and seek prompt treatment, can lead to increased risk for a severe brain injury, with lifelong consequences. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, one-in-ten high school football players will suffer a concussion in a given season, and up to 50% of them will go undiagnosed.

Concussions can be difficult to detect; there are no outward signs, and symptoms are not always immediate after the injury. It is not uncommon for a player to take a blow to the head and experience no symptoms; the player will not, necessarily, lose consciousness. If a concussion goes undiagnosed, it may increase the risk of re-injury and, ultimately, lead to chronic changes in the brain. Athletes who return to their sport before they fully recover from a head injury are at a greater risk because the prior injury leaves the brain vulnerable to repeated injury, concussions and at increased risk for memory loss, cognitive problems, and chronic headaches.

At the University of Michigan, researchers and doctors are taking a new approach to diagnosing, preventing and researching concussions. They provide state-of-the-art diagnostic and treatment options with a focus on returning athletes to competition safely and expeditiously. Care begins with an assessment in the Neurology and Neurosurgery clinics. Understanding the unique needs of each athlete, the health care professionals provide treatment plans that focus on wellness, safety and performance. To learn more about “Keeping your head in the game,” visit the University of Michigan Health System website.

Given the nature of our sports, we cannot completely eliminate concussions. But with careful consideration of the rules of the game, reinforcement of proper playing technique, and insistance on using the proper equipment, we may be able to decrease their number and/or frequency. Preventing the long-term consequences of concussions, however, requires a more significant effort and a much more powerful weapon — education. It is critical that coaches, trainers, parents, and athletes be equipped with the right knowledge to recognize the signs and symptoms of a traumatic brain injury and are trained to act appropriately and quickly when a concussion occurs. To all athletes – play it safe!

Mark Bello has thirty-three years experience as a trial lawyer and twelve years as an underwriter and situational analyst in the lawsuit fundingindustry. He is the owner and founder of Lawsuit Financial Corporationwhich helps provide legal financecash flow solutions and consulting when a plaintiff requires necessities of life litigation funding while his/her personal injury litigation is pending. Bello is a Justice Pac member of the American Association for Justice, Sustaining and Justice Pac member of the Michigan Association for Justice, Business Associate of the Florida, Tennessee, and Colorado Associations for Justice, a member of the American Bar Association, the State Bar of Michigan and the Injury Board.

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