March is Brain Awareness Month

In sports these days there is a strong push to limit the risk of brain trauma resulting from sports-related concussions. We have seen the progressive steps taken by most professional sports in the last two years to better evaluate, treat and return players to their sport within a timely yet medically safe timeframe. This month the Center for Disease Control (CDC) is making a concerted effort to educate all those involved in sports about concussion recognition, treatment and prevention.

Neurologist Dr. Anthony Alessi (www.alessimd.com ) defines a concussion as, "A syndrome of immediate and transient neurological impairment as a result of a mechanical force on the brain. It can be a blow to the brain or the sudden jolting of the brain in the hard skull forward and backward.”

This trauma results in what is considered by the medical community as part of the continuum of traumatic brain injuries (TBI). Statistics from the CDC reveal an estimated 1.7 million TBI-related deaths, hospitalizations, and emergency department visits occur in the United States each year. About 75% of TBIs that occur each year are concussions or other forms of mild TBI. In addition to the increasing occurrences of concussions in professional sports, concussions appear to be on a rise in adolescents. Studies show that a majority of concussions occurring in teen age males are sustained while playing football or while bicycling, while teen age females who participated in basketball, soccer or while bicycling were at increased risk. ( www.cdc.gov/concussions)

Evaluation of concussions begins with identifying the signs and symptoms. They include:
  • headache
  • dizziness
  • nausea
  • problems with memory
  • cognitive deficits
  • loss of consciousness
  • sensitivity to light or sound
  • mood or behavioral changes
  • drowsiness
  • double vision

    Though these symptoms are not always clear cut, proper evaluation of a concussion requires observation and testing from trained medical professionals. The one constant of concussions remains in their treatment...Rest! Athletes in all sports and at all levels must refrain from participation in sports until all signs and symptoms have resolved and have received follow up testing prior to returning to play.

    In May 2010, Connecticut Governor Jodi Rell signed Public Act 10-62 requiring Connecticut coaches to adhere to the following guidelines: "This act requires anyone who has a coaching permit issued by the State Board of Education (SBE) and who coaches intramural or interscholastic athletics to be periodically trained in how to recognize and respond to head injuries and concussions. It also requires such a coach to take a student athlete out of any interscholastic or intramural game or practice if the athlete (1) shows signs of having suffered a concussion after an observed or suspected blow to the head or body or (2) is diagnosed with a concussion. The coach must keep the athlete out of any game or practice until the athlete has received written clearance to return to the game or practice from a licensed medical professional.” (Form more information on this Act go to www.cga.CT.gov)

    The Connecticut Sun medical staff takes several steps to ensure that our athletes play with a reduced risk for concussions. Before our season starts our athletes are given a baseline neuro-cognitive test. In the event a concussion occurs in season, the CT Sun medical team evaluates the athlete and immediately administers another neuro-cognitive test. This data then can then be compared to the individual’s baseline scores to give us a better picture of the cognitive injury sustained and therefore help guide our treatment plan.

    Team Neurologist Dr. Alessi states, "Computerized cognitive testing is the latest tool to assist physicians in the diagnosis and treatment of concussion. A baseline study and subsequent post-injury studies allow the sports medicine team to gauge the rate of recovery and eventual return to full athletic participation."

    Several of these computerized cognitive tests are on the market now and each has its loyal following. Factors that go into choosing a test include cost, speed and ease of use, time, and resources needed. With our Connecticut Sun athletes we choose to use Axon Sports, which is a web-based testing program. "Axon sports provides a computerized cognitive test that can be administered quickly from anywhere with internet access. Using playing cards as the basis for testing makes the exam language neutral and easy for any athlete to comprehend," Dr. Alessi adds. (For more information on Axon Sports concussion testing go visit their website HERE).

    With the growing concern over the concussed brain and its potential long term consequences, it is important that we all take a stake in caring for our athletes. Whether it be learning to recognize the signs and symptoms of a concussion or administering a post-concussion test to your child, we all need to increase our role in controlling this injury. For more information regarding concussion evaluation, treatment and prevention visit www.ctathletictrainers.org.

    If you have further questions regarding this topic feel free to contact me at blaze@connecticutsun.com.

    Stay healthy,
    Jeremy