Leading Edge Concussion Evaluation and Treatment Possible for Local High School Athletes

Rome-area high school athletes may be better protected from concussion and brain injury this fall by the same program currently provided to college and professional athletes worldwide.

The clinical program establishes a baseline cognitive “score” for each player. After a concussion, these scores can be compared to those of a post-injury assessment in order to evaluate an athlete’s relative recovery from the injury.  Team Harbin Sports Medicine will be providing the program free of charge to area high-school athletes, with enrollment in the program progressing over the next several months.

According to Ken Davis, MD, Chief Executive Officer of Harbin Clinic, “Our Team Harbin Sports Medicine staff has worked for several months to become an officially certified provider of ImPACT™ testing. ImPACT™, which stands for Immediate Post-concussion Assessment and Clinical Test, is the most widely used clinical concussion and head injury program for athletics in the United States.  The certification process required extensive training for our sports medicine doctors and staff, along with acquisition of the computer programs.”

The ImPACT™ concussion management program is currently used by the National Football League, National Hockey League, Major League Baseball; many other professional sports organizations, several high-level NCAA colleges, and the US Olympic program. There is a national movement to expand this medical service to high schools, and Team Harbin is taking the lead to bring the program to North Georgia.

“Our initial plan to provide the service to the Floyd County and Rome City schools represents a significant contribution of time and resources,” said Davis. “Harbin Clinic’s ultimate goal is to provide this service to schools throughout the region, even extending down to the middle school level, and we will move as quickly as possible to expand the program.”

 According to Dr. David Hale, a Neurologist with Team Harbin Sports Medicine, “Baseline testing of athletes is generally performed in the offseason, when athletes are not under the direct stress of practice and competition.  Coupled with the demands of an academic calendar, other school events, and athletes who compete in multiple sports, this requirement creates a logistic challenge for enrolling so many athletes at once during the “roll out” process.  Team Harbin is working closely with principals, athletic directors, and coaches to meet these challenges.”

 The program, called ImPACT™, creates baseline cognitive assessment of the student’s brain using a complex computer test.  If an athlete experiences a concussion/brain injury, the baseline study provides a guide point needed to assess the extent of injury and progress of healing. “The post-injury test can then give more reliable, individualized results determining if and when an athlete can safely return to activity and play,” Dr. Hale said.

Dr. Brad Bushnell, a Team Harbin Orthopaedic Surgeon and Sports Medicine specialist is championing the effort.  According to Bushnell, “It is difficult for physicians to treat concussions and brain injuries. We often see patients the following day or even later, and we must base the evaluation on subjective information such as the recollection of the injury and post-injury events by the student, their teammates, parents, or coaches.  Clinical signs and symptoms such as nausea, headaches, light sensitivity, or an abnormal neurological examination, have been proven to be unreliable as means of adequately assessing recovery from a concussion.

“The cognitive baseline and subsequent evaluations established through this program gives us (the treating doctors) vital information to evaluate the severity of the injury, guide our treatment, and help determine when the individual can return to the sport.  Research shows that the seriousness of damage from a second concussion is significantly increased if the prior injury has not healed – even to the point of sudden death from an otherwise relatively minor hit,” Bushnell said.

Bushnell also explained some of the additional motivation for providing this program to high school athletes.  “One of the great ironies in concussion management is the fact that younger athletes, who generally have the least available resources, have the highest risk of problems from concussions.  Younger athletes have more varied symptoms, longer-lasting effects, and increased susceptibility of injury.  Older athletes at the college and professional level, however, are at lower risk of problems even though they have more resources to help manage concussions at those higher levels of play.  As official physicians for our local college and professional teams, Team Harbin has experience with athletes at these higher levels.  This new emphasis of Team Harbin’s concussion management program thus seeks to provide ImPACT™ testing for the higher risk group of younger athletes.”

Dr. Hale adds, “Female athletes are also often forgotten as being at risk for concussion, but sports like women’s field hockey and lacrosse have actually been shown to have higher concussion rates than men’s football!  Our enrollment of high school athletes will therefore involve all sports for both boys and girls.”

  According to Hale, “The focus of current research is elimination of guesswork in treating concussion. ImPACT™ is a tool that helps us take great strides towards that goal.” Hale says it is important that parents, coaches and the athletes understand the potential seriousness of the injury, no matter how mild it may at first appear. Team Harbin Sports Medicine is committed to protecting athletes and providing those who have a head injury with the appropriate treatment that will help them fully recover.