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Concussion Highlights Increased Community Awareness of Head Injuries

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On Sunday, Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler became the most recent Chicago professional athlete to sustain a concussion on the field of play.  With high-profile athletes suffering concussions on a seemingly weekly basis, local organizations, high schools, and professional leagues are raising awareness of the issue through enhanced return-to-play guidelines and educational programs designed to explain best practices for managing head injuries.  These stem from studies done at various institutions throughout the country regarding the effects of head trauma.

A high school football team in Indiana participated in a Purdue University study designed to analyze the damage that might result from violent hits in the sport.  Instead of focusing on players who had sustained concussions, the researchers at Purdue looked into the brain impairment suffered by those athletes who were deemed healthy.  Twenty-one players were monitored for the entire season.  It was discovered that four athletes who were not diagnosed with concussions still suffered the kind of brain impairment seen in those who were.  Each of those players continued playing, in some cases receiving more than 1,800 hits to the head over the course of the season.  The cognitive damage that results may not be evident until 10 or 20 years down the road.  For that reason, coaches, players, and parents need to be research the topic and have a full understanding of the potential consequences.

The Science Behind a Concussion

A concussion occurs when an impulse is sent to the brain, causing a complex metabolic chain of events.  Think of the head as an egg.  The brain is the egg yolk, surrounded with fluid and then a hard outer shell.  A concussion is caused when a “jolt” is sent to that egg.  A concussion is a functional injury to the brain, so structurally the brain appears normal on all imaging including CT scans and MRIs.  For that reason, the NFL has required players to establish baseline tests of brain function since 2007.  After a concussion, players are evaluated with a brain function test called ImPACT (Immediate Post-Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing).  It is the most-widely used, and a scientifically validated computerized concussion evaluation system.  It allows doctors to compare baseline results with those observed after a head injury.

Due to the metabolic chain of events, blood flow, and therefore glucose, decreases in the brain.  Glucose is the body’s main form of energy.  In most injuries, the body wants to increase the amount of glucose sent to an injured area.  With the decreased blood flow and increased need, there is a large gap of supply and demand of blood.

After suffering a concussion, an athlete may report headaches or pressure in the head, dizziness, nausea or vomiting, or blurred vision.  A coach or parent may observe the athlete experiencing a loss of consciousness, slurred speech, balance problems, or an “out of it behavior.”

AthletiCo’s Head Injury and Concussion Management Program

AthletiCo recently launched a Head Injury and Concussion Program to benefit individuals suffering from ongoing concussion symptoms.  As the largest provider of Athletic Trainers in the United States, AthletiCo recognizes the importance of providing concussion management training to its athletic trainers, who are often the first to come in contact with athletes who sustain concussions.

If an athlete suffers a concussion and remains symptomatic for more than seven days, AthletiCo’s athletic trainers are able to test for balance deficits to determine if the athlete should be evaluated by a vestibular physical therapist.  Vestibular physical therapists are trained in concussion management and can evaluate and treat patients who complain of dizziness, balance deficits, and motion sensitivity.  After evaluation, vestibular therapists can refer the athlete to an appropriate physician who specializes in vestibular conditions, show the athlete stretches or exercises to manage symptoms, or simply educate the athlete on how to care for his or her condition.  Athletic trainers work closely with the physicians and vestibular physical therapists to ensure a thorough team approach from point of injury through treatment.

For more information on AthletiCo’s Head Injury and Concussion Management Program, please click here.

Resources and Articles of Interest

Study of high school football team reveals brain impairment in players never diagnosed with concussions

High school football player dies after suffering traumatic head injury

Penn player was in early stages of chronic traumatic encephalopath, seen in players after concussions

Terry Long’s death related to football injuries

Concussions linked to former player Andre Waters’ death

Congress considers concussion legislation amid serious concerns over athlete safety

NFL study links concussions, depression

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