The NFL recently published an interview with Dr. Margot Putukian, who is chair of the Return-to-Play Subcommittee on the NFL Head, Neck and Spine Committee. Dr. Putukian, who spoke on concussions at the NCAA convention last January, also serves as Director of Athletic Medicine Services at Princeton University
Question: As college athletes head back to the playing field this fall, what’s the first thing you tell them all about sports safety?
Answer: The importance of taking care of themselves and as it relates to head injury, making sure they are aware of the signs and symptoms of concussion and the importance of reporting these symptoms (including those experienced by their teammates) to their athletic medicine staff. We also discuss other areas of safety including how to avoid over-exertion and heat issues, the importance of proper hygiene in avoiding infection, the importance of nutrition, and the role of rest in recovery and performance.
Q: How does your experience with college athletes lend itself to your work on the Head, Neck and Spine Committee?
A: I work with athletes from a variety of sports, and there are issues that these athletes bring to the forefront that might be a little different. For example, soccer players are hard to evaluate when the play is often non-stop, and having to consider this lends itself to asking critical questions regarding how quickly a player should be evaluated. Some sports do not include helmets as part of their protective equipment, which again raises questions regarding the role of equipment in preventing or minimizing injury. Having the perspective of a collegiate team physician taking care of a multitude of sports with a variety of sport specific challenges is useful in then addressing football at the professional level.
Q: You were involved in the creation of the NFL Sideline Concussion Protocol. Why is this important? What does it accomplish?
A: The NFL Sideline Concussion Protocol provides a standardized assessment (NFL Sideline Assessment) that includes an evaluation of symptoms, cognitive function and balance, as well as “go – no go” determinations. The NFL Sideline Concussion Protocol provides a standardized algorithm that all the medical providers across the league can use that addresses the evaluation and disposition decision making to exclude more serious brain injury as well as spine injury, and then also evaluate concussive injury. Though more sophisticated tests are incorporated in the baseline and return to play decision making after a game, the sideline protocol incorporates a standardized assessment that all members of the medical team can use to evaluate an athlete on the sideline.
Q: What sort of culture changes have you seen regarding head injuries across all sports?