Thursday, May 30

Texas Creates Concussion Registry to Track Student Athlete Safety

A new registry is taking shape in Texas to track youth athletes and their rates of sports-related head injuries. Once established, the ConTex registry, a partnership between the University Interscholastic League (UIL) and the O’Donnell Brain Institute at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, will be the largest and most comprehensive of its kind in the nation.

Although youth sports are a common and beneficial way for students to keep active, build character, and promote community — some 62% of children playing team sports say they do so to interact with friends — concerns about the lasting effects of injuries, particularly concussions, have risen in recent years. But at the same time, the available data and research on the relationship between sports and brain injuries remains limited.

The ConTex registry will track some 800,000 student athletes in participating Texas schools across more than two dozen sports, using the information gathered to determine whether certain regulations or equipment changes are actually working to make sports safer.

“This is a groundbreaking initial step,” said Dr. Munro Cullum, a professor at the O’Donnell Brain Institute. “I think we’re on the verge of a very impactful project that will inform the nation about the frequency of concussions and will provide basic information about concussion and recovery in student-athletes.”

Professional sports organizations such as the NFL, NHL, and NCAA have taken up concussion studies of their own in recent years at the collegiate and professional levels of play, but much remains to be learned about the impact of brain injuries during adolescence. Since 2008, for example, there has been a nearly 30% increase in the number of patients with brain tumors of an unknown cause that is not reflected in the National Cancer Registry.

“You have to look at football and hockey and girls’ sports. Girls’ soccer and cheerleading are some of places where we see a lot of concussions,” said concussions expert Chad Stephens. “If there’s a way for us…to get more athletes interested in playing and more parents less concerned about letting their athletes play and having data to support our suggestions, our decisions, I think that would be a positive for the sport.”

The UIL and O’Donnell Brain Institute hope that their example will encourage other states to establish registries of their own, which in turn could help paint a better national portrait of student athlete health.

“A lot of states will follow suit if they’re not already working on this very topic,” said Cullum. “I do think our registry will develop a very strong groundwork for a national registry.”

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