Safety First

MCMC puts sneakers on the ground to help treat student-athlete concussions and get them back to their sports safely.

Watch any NFL game on television these days and you’re likely to see a player taken to the sidelines to undergo concussion protocol assessments, the result of growing awareness that head injuries can cause lasting trauma to the brains of professional athletes.

That same care and concern can now be found on the practice and playing fields of a half-dozen schools in the Mid-Columbia region in a variety of sports. That is the result of a collaborative concussion care program launched in the last two years through a task force that teams Mid-Columbia Medical Center personnel with area coaches, trainers and educators.

Concussion concerns are not limited to football — the same approach is given to all student athletes, male and female, whether they’re playing soccer, basketball, wrestling, track, even cheerleading. And task force members are also making sure a student athlete is ready to return to the classroom and doesn’t suffer academically in the process of treatment and recovery.

According to Nick Dills, who directs MCMC Sports Medicine, all program team members have received extra training and continuing education that specifically applies to concussions.

“It’s not unusual for a trainer to have a sideline conversation with a physical therapist on the field at a game, or a late-night weekend phone call with one of our doctors when circumstances warrant it,” he says.

MCMC doctors are eager to help.

“Concussion is a sports injury, but mostly it’s a brain injury that affects multiple aspects of the athlete’s health. Caring for these injuries fits well with our skills as family physicians,” says Dr. John Rogers, a MCMC family medicine physician who is also a professor at Oregon Health & Science University.

Dr. Rogers and his wife, Dr. Jane Corboy, are two of themedical experts involved in the MCMC Sports Medicine concussion management program. The team includes three physical therapists and four certified athletic trainers deployed in the community — putting sneakers on the ground in the fight to spot and treat brain injury. Area schools are very appreciative of the effort.

“It’s really been great,” says Mike Somnis, athletic director and vice principal at The Dalles High School. “This is a partnership designed to ensure student athletes in the
area are safe and educated about the potential effects of concussion.”

Other campuses involved include Dufur School, Sherman County Middle/High Schools, South Wasco High School, Lyle High School and Horizon Christian School.

Concussion Treatment Pathway

There are several steps involved in treating student-athletes:

  • Every athlete in a contact sport takes a preseason test (called ImPACT) specifically designed to determine baseline levels of reaction time, cognitive ability and reasoning.
  • When a concussion is suspected, athletes are assessed by a school athletic trainer (if it’s during a game or practice) or an MCMC doctor, who then administers a follow-up ImPACT or neurocognitive assessment and any relevant clinical testing needed.
  • Once diagnosed with a concussion, an athlete must complete both a Return to Academics (RTA) and Return to Athletics/Play (RTP) protocol under the guidance of their doctor, school administrators, trainers, and any other members of the concussion care team prior to returning to sport or full academics. These protocols are individualized and graded and recognize the wildly varying rates of recovery from concussion among youth athletes.

Roadmaps For Recovery

Although student athletes want to return to the field as quickly as they can, a growing awareness of the potential dangers of head trauma has led to a wide-ranging acceptance of the need to make sure a concussion is treated properly. Athletes themselves have become more willing to take proper care of themselves as the word has spread.

“Years ago, athletes would not self-report concussion symptoms,” says John Barresse, lead athletic trainer at MCMC, who works on-site at The Dalles High School. “Now athletes are more aware, and I’ve even been approached by teammates on the sideline who tell me, ‘You’d better have a look at so-and-so.’ “

In addition to seeing a doctor, students may also be referred to physical therapy.

“This is a program that identifies the risks of concussions — as well as multiple concussions — and minimizes those risks before a student is cleared to return to the school and classroom,” says Ryan Sharkey, a physical therapist with MCMC Outpatient Therapy. “We’re getting students into the proper avenues to recover in a timely manner while making sure they don’t do too much too quickly. We develop a step-by-step roadmap for return to the field and the classroom.”

Dr. Rogers says the presence of the certified athletic trainers on campus — paid by MCMC — is key to making the concussion program work in the community.

“They really know the athletes in their schools, they have relationships with the coaches and teachers, and they are responsible for carrying out the return to-play protocol in most cases,” he says.

Concussion Facts/Stats

• A concussion is a form of traumatic brain injury

• In high school athletes, concussions account for nearly 9% of all injuries

• In college athletes, concussions account for almost 6% of total injuries

• Concussion incidence is highest in football and soccer (generally higher in contact sports)

• Contact with another player is the highest risk factor for sustaining a concussion

• Female athletes have a higher rate of concussions in sports played by both genders (i.e. basketball, soccer, etc.)

• Depending on the sport, between 16-20% of all athletes have suffered a previous concussion, or will suffer another concussion during their high school careers.

Concussion Symptoms

Concussion symptoms include, but are not limited to:
• Headache
• Dizziness
• Light sensitivity
• Noise sensitivity
• Confusion
• Difficulty concentrating
• Amnesia
• Loss of consciousness
• Neck pain
• Nausea/Vomiting