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Protecting Your Athlete: Concussions And What You Should Know

From the pee-wee leagues to high school, college, and the pros, the return of organized sports this fall and winter will put greater attention on athlete safety than ever before. Along with COVID-19 protocols, however, it’s also important to remain vigilant about protecting athletes from another potentially “invisible” health risk of contact sports: concussions.

At Southeastern Med, Dr. Robert Huff and our experienced concussion management team offer the full continuum of care for these unique injuries, making sure young athletes are properly assessed, protected, treated, and cleared to play following the Ohio High School Athletic Association’s (OHSAA) recommended Return to Play Protocol.

Our trainers are available to assist student-athletes at all six local schools (junior high and high school level), during game action if an injury occurs. Unlike a sprained ankle or a dislocated shoulder, a concussion isn’t always easy to identify when it first happens, and it doesn’t always take a crushing helmet-to-helmet football tackle to cause one. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have identified some key behaviors and symptoms to look for in an athlete who may be concussed:

Signs of a Concussion Often Observed by Others:

  • Appears dazed or stunned
  • Is confused about assignment
  • Forgets plays
  • Is unsure of game, score, or opponent
  • Moves clumsily
  • Answers questions slowly
  • Loses consciousness
  • Shows behavior or personality changes
  • Cannot recall events prior to hit
  • Cannot recall events after hit

Concussion Symptoms Often Reported by Athlete:

  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Balance problems or dizziness
  • Double or fuzzy vision
  • Sensitivity to light or noise
  • Feeling sluggish
  • Feeling foggy or groggy
  • Concentration or memory problems
  • Confusion

Once one of our trainers has determined that an athlete has likely suffered a concussion, that athlete will then be able to meet with Dr. Huff, who can determine a proper direction of care suited to each individual. This may include referring a patient back to a trainer for rehab or to our Physical Therapy (PT) team if a prolonged recovery from a concussion requires more one-on-one vestibular rehabilitation.

Once the patient is symptom free, our PT staff and athletic trainers are able to collaborate on the patient’s completion of the five-day “Return to Play Protocol.” This involves ensuring that the patient is able to complete daily progressed mental and physical exercises without the onset of symptoms over each 24-hour period. If the athlete has any setbacks, our concussion management team will continue to work with them to find the best course for a safe and full recovery. Finally, when it is determined that the athlete is fit to return to his/her team, they will officially be cleared to play under OHSAA guidelines.

Remember, no athlete–whether a Little Leaguer or High Schooler– should be going back to sports after a concussion without completing a supervised 5 day return to play protocol. The steps toward medical clearance, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations, include:

  1. No exertional activity until asymptomatic.
  2. When the athlete appears clear, begin low-impact activity such as walking, stationary bike, etc.
  3. Initiate aerobic activity fundamental to specific sport such as running or skating, and may also begin progressive strength training activities.
  4. Begin non-contact skill drills specific to sport such as dribbling, fielding, batting, etc.
  5. Full contact in practice setting.
  6. Game play/competition.
    1. Athlete must remain symptom-free for 24 hours after each day of the protocol to formally pass each level. An athlete CANNOT progress more than one level in a single day.
    2. If symptoms recur, the athlete must return to previous level and should be reevaluated by an appropriate health care professional.
    3. Medical check should occur before contact. (Final written clearance from the medical professional shall be obtained before the athlete engages in any unrestricted or full contact activity).

Learn more about Sports Medicine services at Southeastern Med or contact us at 740.439.8977 for more information about our concussion management program.