New Guidelines to Protect Young Athletes

The National Athletic Trainer‘s Association (NATA) has just released new guidelines aimed at preventing sudden death among athletes.  All athletes are included in these recommendations, even the youngest of nonprofessionals.  It is always heartbreaking to hear of a 15-year-old collapsing and dying on a track field or during tryouts for a high school baseball team.  We never quite believe it can still happen – and for sure, it shouldn’t happen – but it does, leaving us shocked and saddened, and – invariably – very angry.  After all, isn’t this what those mandatory sports physicals are all about?  Spotting kids with heart trouble or some other potential risk and making sure they are fit enough to play?

No matter how thoroughly we pre-test every young aspiring Sharapova or Tebow, things still go wrong.  The emphasis of the latest guidelines is to put in place lifesaving emergency procedures in the event of a sudden medical crisis or accident or injury on the field. “These guidelines were developed for any level of sports participation, and to truly help save a life,” NATA President Marjorie Albohm said in an association news release.  Further,

It is also critical that a school, team or league’s medical professionals have an emergency action plan in place.  In the event that an injury occurs, every minute counts when it comes to appropriate care and transport of the athlete.

Albohm also noted that collegiate and professional teams have standing by on the playing fields athletic trainers and other staff working to both prevent and treat injuries.  Only about 42 percent of high schools have such staff members.  While better youth sports safety laws are being passed in most states, there is still a long way to go.  The NFL has only just lately begun requiring athletic trainers to watch during games for concussions and other hard hits, injuries the players themselves may not even notice they’ve sustained.

Here are the highlights of the new recommendations for preventing sudden death among athletes:

  • An athlete’s chances of survival are much greater when there is, already in place, a site-specific emergency plan.  All personnel should know and understand these procedures.
  • A key to prompt and appropriate treatment is the recognition of the type of problem the player is experiencing.  For example, sudden cardiac arrest should be suspected in any athlete who has collapsed and is unresponsive.
  • Public access to early defibrillation is crucial.  The time between a player’s collapse and his or her receipt of the first shock from an automated external defibrillator should be less than three to five minutes.
  • If a serious brain injury is suspected in an athlete who is unresponsive, medical staffers must be ready to transport that athlete to a health care or emergency facility at once, while ensuring adequate ventilation and elevating the head to help decrease intracranial pressure.
  • If heat stroke is suspected, it is vital to determine the athlete’s core temperature soon after the collapse in order to ensure immediate, accurate treatment.
  • Many athletes have asthma.  These players need to be properly educated about their condition and how to recognize good and bad breathing days.  A correctly structured warm-up program may reduce their risk of an asthma attack or their reliance on asthma medications.

The position statement appears in the February issue of the Journal of Athletic Training.  

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