As the start of school draws near, so does the fall athletic season. Before student-athletes hit the field for pre-season practice, it is essential they receive a thorough education to protect their brains and long-term health.
“Practice is the common time when athletes suffer concussions,” Dr. Hallie Zwibel, acting director for New York Institute of Technology Center for Sports and Wellness, assistant professor of family medicine, and NYIT’s team physician told Science Daily.
“For student-athletes, it’s important to know the signs and symptoms of concussion, work on your balance and muscle strength, be aware of where you are in the space of a playing field or court and the actions you’re taking, and of course making sure your helmet fits properly, is well-maintained and is worn correctly.”
Zwibel’s statements are especially pertinent given the recent findings that the majority of sports-related concussions occur during practice, not during competition.
One of the most important steps for protecting athletes’ brains is guaranteeing athletes suspected of suffering a brain injury are removed from competition or practice until they have been evaluated.
“A simple set of questions and exams to check mental status, speech, and physical reactions should be done immediately on the field,” he says. “Just because you have an injury to the head, it doesn’t mean it’s a concussion. It could be even more serious — so get seen by a physician for an evaluation.”
Zwibel also highlights the need for pre-season baseline screening to better identify subsequent brain injuries.
“We can screen for increased risk factors, such as ADHD or history of a previous concussion,” he says. “We can test for memory, processing speed, and reaction time — information that’s useful when we have a patient who later suffers a suspected concussion.”
The doctor also explained that treatment and rehabilitation methods have come a long way from the days of injured persons being told to simply rest.
“We treat visual issues, balance, cognition, headaches, and sleep disorders that may result from a concussion,” Zwibel says. “Just because someone suffers a concussion, it doesn’t mean there’s nothing we can do. And we look at the student-athlete as a whole. It’s not just getting back in the field — it’s returning to play and returning to learn.”