MLS Discusses Best Protocol for Concussions

Associated Press—January 7, 2012

Major League Soccer is looking to take the lead with the best protocol for handling concussions.

Team doctors and athletic trainers from both inside and outside the sport attended the MLS Medical Symposium on Saturday, organized by Hospital for Special Surgery.

While football and soccer have each had their share of head injuries, men's soccer ranks fifth in terms of game-related concussions.

Like some other leagues, the MLS has added to each team a neuropsychologist who specializes in the treatment of concussions.

Dr. Riley J. Williams, team doctor for the New York Red Bulls and the New Jersey Nets, emphasized the importance of being referred to a neuropsychologist.

"We think it is appropriate and should be the standard of care, at least for any type of impact athletics," he said.

Last year, the league added neuropsychological testing for all players to establish a baseline, so problems can be more easily identified when symptoms arise.

In the MLS, a player suspected of having a concussion in a game or practice must be removed immediately and evaluated. Team physicians are the ultimate authority.

Players are evaluated and treated using three testing protocols. Players must pass cognitive tests and be symptom-free before returning to the field, which could take days or months. The team doctor and team neuropsychologist must OK the return to competition.

"It's an injury that is a little vague and a little diffuse," Williams said. "Players are often very anxious and very, very worried about their positions on teams because, after all, it is a money-making business for them. So it's really our responsibility to be cautious and act in the best long-term interests of the players in terms of not putting them back on the field prior to them being ready."

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