Emerging Research Looks at Concussions on the Playing Field and What They Mean for the Classroom

While it has become common knowledge that the brain is especially sensitive immediately after a concussion, and that a concussed athlete should remain on the sideline until cleared by a medical professional, the same may hold true when it comes to returning to the classroom.

A growing body of evidence-based research over the past decade is pointing to the importance of cognitive rest, which goes beyond the classroom.

“We have learned that physical rest alone fails to address another key component of brain function in young or college age athletes,” said Lehigh University Director of Sports Medicine, Jack Foley, LAT, ATC. “This includes mental exertion associated with academic activities.”

“Cognitive activities such as watching television, listening to music, using the computer, text messaging, playing video games, concentrating in the classroom, and completing academic assignments can place additional neurometabolic demand on the brain because they all require mental exertion. So our first therapeutic goal must be to limit concentration, learning, and memorization to a level which is tolerable and does not exacerbate the re-emergence of systems.”

Foley has developed a plan, along with Assistant Athletic Trainer Emily Dunn, which addresses concussions and the implications for the classroom, that is being reviewed by the Associate Dean of Students, the Assistant Dean of Student for Academic Support Services, the Dean of Athletics, and the University legal counsel offices prior to implementing them at Lehigh. “They are also presently on file in the Patriot League office for distribution as requested by the Council of Presidents,” said Foley.

Cheryl Ashcroft, Assistant Dean of Students for Academic Support Services, said “the protocol for student athletes with concussions has been a valuable tool for our office. Providing the symptoms in writing and a clear model on the concussion management process has given us the guidelines to assist our student-athletes. It is a highly cooperative process that is working well.”

Foley added that more work remains.

“Concussion management is driven by science,” states Foley. “We are at the end of the beginning rather than the beginning of the end regarding of our understanding of sport-related concussion. Yet we should feel better prepared in what we can control within our concussion management plan, namely cognitive rest.”

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