(Editor’s Note: Below is a summary of two lengthy feature articles from yesterday’s New York Times—“A New Way to Care for Young Brains” and “Anecdotal Evidence Provides Clues to Youth Concussions”—in which the current body of knowledge about concussion management is summarized. The work was done by John Toormina of College Athletics Clips (www.CollegeAthleticsClips.com) and is reprinted with permission.)
With the growing concern about concussions increasing exponentially, a need has been created for facilities to treat concussion patients. Because of that, concussion clinics are popping up all over the country.
However, the problem that remains is there is no exact formula to treat concussions. There are two main reasons: every concussion is different, and the doctors are only now scratching the surface of knowledge about these head injuries. When stories like Junior Seau’s tragic suicide get into the news, parents panic and legislatures react by requiring concussion tests from an early age. The problem is that there are no “you’re all recovered standards” that can be laid out.
That said, doctors treating the millions of concussion patients each year must tread carefully in advising patients. Brain scans can be done to shed some light on the severity of the injury, but do not detect actual concussions and also have the drawback of radiation exposure. Therefore, the most widespread treatment of concussions that is being used is being overly cautious, recommending lots of rest and taking a “wait and see” attitude. The most important thing these clinics say they do is reiterate to parents that stories like Junior Seau are the exception and not the rule, and with proper rest most people who sustain concussions make a full recovery.
It is impossible, however, to say with 100 percent certainty when someone is fully recovered. Plus, the younger the patient, generally the longer it takes to recover from a concussion. That fact is one that is hard to convince parents of and keep them at ease.
Recently learned is that it is absolutely essential to not rush an athlete back to contact sports because sustaining another concussion while still recovering could leave the person affected for life and in some cases result in death.
One measure that can estimate whether someone is recovered full is the “baseline test” method. At the beginning of a season, athletes can take the standardized test that measures things like reaction time and memory. Once a concussion is sustained they can be retested periodically to check to see if they’ve recovered to their “baseline”. If someone doesn’t pass the test, doctors are supposed to not allow an athlete to resume competition.
With the growing presence of these clinics around the nation, some question whether there are hidden profits behind these facilities. However, many doctors say that is not the case, and clinics are happy if they break even. It is clear – by all accounts – that these clinics are primarily there to inform the public about a confusing topic such as concussions, and to decrease the fears that surround them.
Here are some of the findings surrounding the growing presence of youth sports concussion clinics:
- Female patients are making up a larger percentage of the clinics’ overall concussion patient population, a percentage that rises every year.
- Many concussions seem to result from a hit the young athlete does not see coming. It is not just blindside hits in football; it is collisions in which only one party is braced for the collision, as seen in sports with checking, like lacrosse and hockey.
- There is no documented evidence that America’s intensifying youth sports culture is leading to more concussions. But several doctors said they thought the year-round schedules that millions of young athletes on travel and elite teams keep as they specialize in one sport was a contributing factor.
- Helmets, specialized mouth guards and headbands do not prevent concussions. “There is no known way to prevent concussions,” Dr. Cynthia Stein said. “We love helmets and mouth guards; they protect your skull and your teeth. But they won’t stop a concussion from happening.”