Recently, I blogged about the military and their testing program for brain injury. Today I learned that high schools may be doing a better job than the military in testing and in using those results to prevent brain injuries in student athletes. In 2010, 41.2% of the student concussions were evaluated with computerized testing a significant increase from 25.7% in 2009. Using the computerized Neurocognitive testing, the proportion of kids with concussions who return to play within 10 days of their injury was 38.5% vs. 55.7% in schools not using the computerized testing. Of the schools using computerized testing, 93% were using the ImPACT system, the same as the National Hockey League and Army Special Forces. Schools which used computerized testing were also more likely to have a physician decide on when the athlete was ready to return to sports.
The focus is also moving to other sports. Soccer players who “head the ball” more than 1,320 times a year were found to have a greater likelihood of changes in white matter as measured on diffusion tensor imaging studies. Michael Lipton, MD, PhD of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine reported this at the Radiological Society of North America meeting this week. Dr. Lipton referred to the changes in white matter “as similar to those we see with a concussion or TBI”. Lipton commented that further research needs to be done, but cautioned against excessive “heading the ball”.
Further to the focus on sports related brain injuries, The New York Times of November 30, 2011 carried a story about a lawsuit against the N.C.C.A. for negligence regarding the awareness and treatment of brain injuries to athletes. Four college athletes, 3 recent football players and 1 soccer player have brought this legal action. Derek Owens, one of the injured athletes, can recall at least 5 concussions since high school; however the concussion he received in 2010 put him out of action and made him aware of the problems he was facing with Post Concussion Syndrome. Owens, formerly a top student, was failing course and using marijuana and alcohol for the first time in life to cope with the problems related to his injury. Owens is now preparing to return to school, but he still is reporting problems. The lawsuit highlights the importance of recognizing brain injuries in athletes and in preventing these injuries from getting worse through repeat concussions. As we are seeing with the professional football players and their actions against the NFL, the awareness is growing at the high school and now college level that detection and prevention programs need to be put in place for student athletes.