Concussion testing keeps sports safer for young athletes

~by Victoria Riley, GreeneCountyNewsOnline

Most Greene County student athletes have taken an extra test this fall, not one they can study for and not one they pass or fail.

High school football and volleyball players, cheerleaders, and seventh and eighth grade football players, as well as younger players in the Greene County Youth Athletic Association’s flag and tackle football programs, have done ImPACT testing – Immediate Post-Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Test – as a way to make participation safer for them.

Concern about concussions in sports, particularly football, has increased as more is learned about chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in the National Football League. “Football is getting a bad rep because of increased awareness of concussions,” said Deb Morton, MPT, ATC-L with 21st Century Rehab at Greene County Medical Center.

Morton’s husband Chad coaches football, and her sons both play football. She and Bob Allen, a youth football coach and board member of the Greene County Youth Athletic Association, have worked three years to make ImPACT testing available for local student athletes.

A grant from the Greene County Community Foundation to the GCYAA funded the purchase of ImPACT software. 21st Century Rehab as donated staff time for testing.

ImPACT testing is done online under the supervision of medical professionals. The test determines each athlete’s baseline in attention span, working memory, sustained and selective attention span, non-verbal problem solving and reaction time.

If an athlete takes a hard hit to the head, the ImPACT test can be repeated, with the new results compared to the baseline results to help with the diagnosis. It can also be used to determine when his or her brain has healed. “The goal is always to prevent injuries, but they do happen. With this, we can manage any injuries better so they can play again,” Morton said. An athlete who’s had a concussion can’t play again until a doctor clears him or her. That assures his brain is totally healed from the concussion.

This fall 180 baseline tests have been done for school athletes and another 69 have been done for GCYAA players. The younger players do the test on an iPad using a pediatric version of the test.

Morton and Ashley Beekman, PTA, ATC-L, have done the testing and are on the sidelines at Greene County athletic events as trainers. “The problem isn’t one concussion. The problem is repetitive concussions,” Beekman said.

“At this level of play, there isn’t a lot of risk. College and pro players hit harder and a lot more often than even the best high school players,” Allen said.

Increased awareness of concussions has made the game safer in several ways. Allen explains that many coaches now teach “Heads Up” football, stressing to players that they keep their heads up at all times so they’re leading with their shoulders rather than their heads. “Those shoulder pads have always been stronger than helmets,” he said.

Coaches are more likely to take a player out of the game for a play or two if he gets hit hard on a tackle and hits the ground hard. “If there’s a big hit, you pull the kid out,” he added.

One of the things Morton is most pleased about is that players are starting to watch out for their teammates. “I’ll have a player call me over and ask me to check on his buddy because he isn’t acting quite right,” she said. “That’s the difference – the awareness even of teammates.”

She also appreciates that information is available to medical providers elsewhere. Doctors anywhere can contact 21st Century Rehab to get the baseline information for a patient he or she is seeing for a concussion.

Morton admits she worries a bit when her sons are on the field, “but if we let kids drive when they’re 14, why shouldn’t we let them play football?” She reminds parents that kids sustain fewer injuries in organized sports than elsewhere.

“What you hope for is that your kids have good coaches that teach the right way to hit and teach good fundamentals,” Morton said.

“You do as much as possible to prevent injuries, to raise awareness,” Beekman said. She added that people have been known to get concussions from falling in the shower.

“It’s natural to worry about injuries and about concussions,” Allen said. “That’s why the ImPACT software is so important. It’s to take out some of the worry parents have that their kid will get too many concussions and end up with issues later on.”

At the start of each new season, athletes who haven’t been tested yet will go through the test. A new baseline test is needed every two years.

“The main focus at the youth level is have fun and to be safe doing it,” he added.
Allen is happy to have ImPACT testing available. “Kudos go to Greene County Medical Center and 21st Century Rehab for the time they’ve put into it, and to the Community Foundation for funding the software,” he said.

He added that he appreciates the Greene County Schools board of education for providing safe athletic trainers at games.

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