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Concussions and the Dangers of Contact Sports on Young Athletes

CORNING, N.Y. (18 NEWS) - In the last decade, young athletes across the country are experiencing concussions and sports-related brain injuries at an alarming rate. 

"Contact sports place a tremendous amount of stress across the body, in your joints, ligaments, bones, tendons," Sports Medicine and Orthopedic Surgeon at Guthrie, Dr. Jeffrey Alwine said. "An athlete needs to be in tip-top shape in conditioning to play in these sports and to succeed. But, even with that being said, if they're in tip-top shape, they can still have injuries."

In a matter of seconds, your body, your brain, your passion for a sport can change. In one moment, a concussion could change everything. 

"I sustained a broken ankle during my sophomore year playing football," senior athlete at Corning Painted Post High School, Ryan Burns said. "And then, this past season, I suffered a concussion in our Sectional Final game for lacrosse."

"I had a concussion last year during football and that kept me out for a couple of weeks, senior athlete at Corning Painted Post High School, Cian Collins said."

As young athletes are grow bigger and stronger each year, the chances for injuring their developing bodies increases. According to a study by Fairhealth.org, concussion rates among children and young adults have risen 500% since 2010. 

For athletes like Cian and Ryan, who have an elevated risk for further damage to their brains, safety has become paramount. 

"In the past, it wasn't looked at like that," Dr. Alwine said. "You got 'your bell rung' and you went back out there and played. Now we know there is a protocol to undergo, there is time for your brain to heal. Because if you have successive hit when your brain isn't recovering, then it can be life-threatening."

As for a prevention strategy, health officials say it begins with off-season training regiments. 

"It's important to put time in outside of your 10 game schedule," Dr. Alwine said. "Put the time in in the summer and the winter to get bigger and stronger in a safe way."

In addition to training, schools and youth leagues across the nation have been instituting state-of-the-art equipment, sticking to a strict concussion protocol, and putting player safety above all else. 

"Our district is great in getting us the best helmets, the top-of-the-line helmets that are supposed to minimize that risk," Corning Lacrosse Coach, Chris Hogue said. "Then, you go to the shoulder pads which protect the heart, and in lacrosse, there has been some significant injury because of that impact right there."

"We use the Guardian Caps now for football and that's been great for practices," Collins said. "It definitely softens some of the blows."

"I've never really had a problem where I'm feeling unsafe while wearing a helmet like that," Burns said. "It covers the head well and does the job."

"The girls in our district have started to wear helmets," Hogue said. "They have taken that initiative which is new. As a coach, we just stress to the parents that we are teaching safety."

In the last decade, concussions and sports-related brain injuries have been in the public eye. New medical reports, career-ending injuries at the professional levels, and eye-opening films from Hollywood are further educating parents, coaches, and athletes themselves. 

However, the jury is still out on the long-lasting impacts of traumatic brain injuries. Advances in the medical field will continue to tell us more. But for now, our local school districts are doing all they can to protect young athletes and preserve the future of contact sports. 

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