Experts have long discussed the ramifications of concussions, but with the NFL adopting a more aggressive concussion protocol, mild traumatic brain injury (TBI) has skyrocketed to the forefront of public consciousness. And, there is a very good reason.
According to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, roughly 2.8 million people suffered a traumatic brain injury in 2013. Additionally, in 2012, the CDC reported nearly 329,900 children under 19 were treated in the United States for concussion or TBI.
Preventive measures, such as wearing a helmet when riding a bicycle, are a crucial step to protecting your brain from trauma. Another important piece starts with your doctor.
Diagnosing a Concussion
Steven Erickson, MD, FACP, is a sports medicine specialist and medical director of Banner University Sports Medicine and Concussion Specialists. He explained that determining if an athlete is healthy to return to the field now goes beyond simply asking them if they’re OK.
An athlete’s desire to compete can lead them to poor judgment, which, in turn, can put them back on the field before healthy. Dr. Erickson also suggested providers need to go beyond asking about loss of consciousness, headache, dizziness, nausea and vomiting.
“Evidence yielded from objective testing of neurologic deficits, in addition to subjective reports, can help to ensure that athletes have had a complete recovery before they are cleared to return to play,” Dr. Erickson said.
An initial test specialists can use is called the ImPACT© tool, which stands for Immediate Post Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing. This test checks neurocognitive functions, including brain processing speed, memory, reaction time and visual motor skills.
As Dr. Erickson noted, ImPACT© testing is most effective when performed at baseline — or before a concussion occurs — and can be compared when an athlete suffers a concussion
Physicians essenially record how your brain functions normally. After a suspected concussion, physicians can perform the tests again to help determine if brain function has changed.
Baseline testing is important because no two people’s brains work the same way, noted Dr. Erickson. By developing individualized baselines for brain function, doctors can make decisions based on what is best for the individual.
In fact, Banner Health recommends baseline testing every year for children under 15. High school-aged children should be tested every other year. If you or your child are interested in participating in sports, schedule an appointment with your doctor or your child’s pediatrician to discuss baseline concussion testing.