As high school and college athletes hit the fields and courts in pre-season practice, concussion awareness should be part of their education.
"Practice is the common time when athletes suffer concussions," says 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.
Zwibel is available to comment on concussion prevention, evaluation and treatment.
"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."
Parents and coaches should direct athletes suspected of suffering from a concussion to sit out the rest of a game or match and seek evaluation and treatment within 24 hours.
"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."
That's where pre-season baseline testing is important, says Zwibel.
"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."
Treatment and rehabilitation has changed greatly since the days when those with concussions were 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."
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