Concussion Testing a Must for Students Participating in School Sports
Upper Perk student athletes sit at computer terminals taking the Immediate Post-Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Test (ImPACT) which is used as a baseline to evaluate students if they suffer a concussion.
Concussions are a traumatic, potentially fatal injury. Those that aren’t fatal can lead to a lifetime of medical problems. Responding to that, Upper Perkiomen High School administrators have instituted new procedures ensuring the accurate assessment of concussion effects via neurocognitive ImPACT testing.
When an individual is hit with significant force on any part of the body, the brain may rattle within the skull, possibly coming into contact with the skull itself. This, in turn, brings about symptoms of nausea, headache, fatigue, inability to focus, and difficulty seeing, all indicators of a concussion.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, athletes in football and girls soccer sustain the most concussions. But any student participating in sports has the potential to suffer one. Upper Perk instituted mandatory testing earlier this school year.
To record a baseline for an individual’s normal brain, a test is taken prior to a student athlete’s sports season establishing pre-injury results which can then be compared to post-injury results once an athlete is asymptomatic. Pre- and post-injury results are then sent to the student’s physician.
This Immediate Post-Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing (ImPACT) is a computerized evaluation of cognitive ability developed in the 1990’s. The twenty minute assessment tests for attention span, memory, response variability, non-verbal problem solving, and reaction time, and can be administered by an athletic trainer, nurse, athletic director, or a team related doctor or psychologist after necessary training.
The recent increase in concussion awareness is nationally evident, particularly due to the Safety in Youth Sports Act which passed on July 1, 2012. This act requires that all athletes who suffered from a concussion receive a physician’s clearance in order to return to play.
Departments of Health and Education must publish concussion information on their websites. Lawsuits by former National Football League players have also focused national attention on concussions and the guidelines used by Upper Perk are somewhat similar to the NFL’s.
Going beyond the basics, UPHS has adopted its own “Return to Play” Protocol, a six step program which highlights rehabilitation stages and functional exercises to prevent a second concussion from happening, an occurrence dubbed Second Impact Syndrome.
Depending upon the severity of the brain trauma, each step may last a minimum of 24 hours, allowing at least seven full days’ rest prior to returning to fully functional athletic competition.
“Even prior to purchasing the ImPACT test, Upper Perkiomen athletes had to follow a stringent return to play policy,” UPHS science teacher and trainer Sharon Schoelkopf said.
“The biggest factor in keeping athletes from suffering serious consequences of head injury is students reporting their symptoms,” Schoelkopf continued. “Too often athletes and parents don’t want to miss playing time and they think it is okay to hide symptoms.”
This can lead to consequences like Second Impact Syndrome. According to Scheolkopf, “It can be fatal if [students] haven’t let the brain heal completely and they get hit again. That’s how kids, or anybody, dies from brain trauma. You can get bleeding on the brain which leads to death [and] after multiple instances, can result in impairment like changes in behavior [and] memory. “It is a serious issue and if you don’t pay attention to it, there are dire repercussions.” A medical doctor, neurologist, or specialist must be seen by the concussed individual prior to returning to play.
Coaches of all sports are required to complete a concussion management certification course which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Pennsylvania Department of Health or Education host.
Noncompliance or violation of concussion policy will result in a coach’s suspension.
Within the district, UPHS personnel have also recently formed their own Brain Strategies Teaching Educators, Parents, and Students (BrainSTEPS) team.
A member of BrainSTEPS, UPHS school nurse Victoria Lelli remarked, “Many times when students have a concussion they are on brain rest. That means there is no texting, there is no school work; nothing until they come back. So we want to [know] when they come back- what is their level? What are they able to do?”
Lelli also noted the BrainSTEPS team concerns: “Do we need to back off academically? Are [the students] having headaches and other symptoms that we need to deal with? “It is a team approach, academically and medically, to make sure that [students] are on the right track.”
“[Concussion awareness] has to be done,” Lelli said, “because we have had some horrific cases, not in this district, but in others where concussions went unreported or were not taken seriously when they were reported. It is something that has to be taken seriously, and students need to take it seriously too.”
Through UPHS efforts, athletes have, in fact, come to realize the significance of concussions.
“I didn’t think it was a good thing at first because I was kind of ignorant, but now that I know a lot more about concussions and their repercussions, I think it is definitely a good thing,” said football player, Ben Hammill. “It is better to be safe than sorry, because a few games just isn’t worth it no matter how much you think it is at the time.”
Due to privacy issues, the district did not want to release data on Upper Perk concussions.