Headlines on Brain Injury and Sports Highlight the Need for Concussion Testing

Concussion graphic

There have been few medical conditions that have received as much attention over the past several years as sports-related concussions. Hardly a week goes by that there isn't an article or broadcast about athletes experiencing long-term symptoms associated with concussion injuries.

Recently, chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) made headlines when the NFL’s top health and safety executive acknowledged for the first time that there is a connection between football-related brain trauma and this degenerative disease that can be diagnosed only after death.

The 2015 Will Smith film, Concussion, a true story of forensic neuropathologist Dr. Bennet Omalu who first discovered CTE, put the condition in the spotlight worldwide.

Hopefully this awareness will lead to action, starting with our youngest athletes. In the student athlete, appropriate management of concussions is of great importance because of emerging evidence that children and teens appear to be at greater risk for sustaining concussions, often suffer more severe physical symptoms and cognitive issues, and face longer lasting post-concussion symptoms if the injury is not properly cared for.

A Call to Action: Get Tested Before Play Begins

For student athletes, protecting against concussion starts before play begins. This means getting a baseline neurological test which measures thinking ability, physical symptoms, emotional status, and quality of sleep.

In fact, an international panel of sports medicine experts calls neurocognitive testing the "cornerstone" of proper concussion management. Should your child later sustain a concussion, a repeat test can measure your child’s recovery and guide your plan for a return to school or sports activities, avoiding the cumulative effects of repeat injuries.

Children who return to sports or school before their recovery is complete risk academic problems, more persistent or worsening of symptoms, and an increased risk of repeat concussions.

The ImPACT Concussion Test

The most widely used testing program within the sports world is ImPACT (Immediate Post-Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing), which was developed in the 1990s to provide useful information to assist qualified healthcare providers in making sound return-to-play decisions following concussions.

ImPACT is used by all of major league baseball and the National Hockey League, the majority of teams in the NFL, teams in the Major League Soccer League, the NBA and by World Wrestling Entertainment. More than 7,400 high schools, 1,300 colleges and universities, 1,200 clinical centers, 225 professional teams, select military units, and Cirque du Soleil also use ImPACT.

While many school districts and systems have adopted baseline measures prior to play, there are some school systems and most recreational and non-scholastic athletic programs have not.

If your school or sports program does not offer baseline, pre-play testing, I would encourage them to consider it. Alternatively, I would encourage you to consider obtaining baseline testing on your own if your child is participating in a contact or high-risk sport activity.

Know the Symptoms of Concussion

In the event your child suffers a concussion, here are the symptoms to look for: headache, nausea, fatigue and drowsiness, visual problems, dizziness and balance problems, sensitivity to noise or lights, emotional reactivity, sadness, nervousness or irritability, sleep problems and impaired thinking, such as difficulty with concentration, memory, or slowness of thinking.

When an individual is struggling with concussion-related symptoms, his or her ability to manage everyday activities, including work or school responsibilities, likely will be disrupted.

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Jon E. Bentz, PhD

Jon E. Bentz, PhD, ABN, is a clinical neuropsychologist with Lancaster General Health Physicians Neuropsychology.

Education: A graduate of East Carolina University and Virginia Tech, Dr. Bentz has worked in the rehabilitation field for more than 30 years, providing assessment and treatment of cognitive and behavioral disorders resulting from stroke, traumatic brain injury, and other dementias and neurological disorders.

Call: 717-544-3172

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