Caution Is Key When Treating High School Athletes Who Sustain Concussions

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Across America, September represents the start of another school year and the return of an American tradition: high school football. However, in addition to the excitement of the game and the roar of the crowd comes the potential for injury. According to latest reports, nearly 300,000 high school athletes sustain concussions each year. Properly identifying, evaluating, and treating those student athletes is critical to returning them to the game safely.

Darren S. Lovick, MD, Saint Luke’s Neuroscience Institute surgical director and neurosurgeon, recommends a graduated stepwise approach to getting an injured athlete safely back on the field.

“Over the years we have gradually witnessed an increase in the number of concussions among high school athletes,” said Lovick. “It is critical to not only quickly identify and evaluate the severity of the brain injury but to also use caution when determining when that athlete is ready to get back in the game.”

A concussion is a traumatic injury to the brain typically caused by a blow to the head. Symptoms can include headache, vomiting, blurred vision, brain fog, fatigue, mental confusion, difficulty sleeping, and in the most serious instances, loss of consciousness. 

Concussions can range from mild, moderate, and severe and can be evaluated through a variety of tools including a neurological exam, a head CT, or an MRI. 

Once a patient has been evaluated and treated and is asymptomatic, Lovick advocates a graduated stepwise return to play.

Steps to Concussion Management

  •   *No activity
  •   *Aerobic activity – jogging/running
  •   *“No Contact” sport-specific drills
  •   *“Light Contact” sport-specific drills
  •   *“Full Contact” practice
  •   *Return to play

 

The “return to play” approach should only be implemented once the patient is completely asymptomatic and the patient should only take one step each day. If at any point symptoms resume, the player should rest and begin steps again once symptoms have dissipated. If the patient fails to progress, additional testing and evaluation is recommended.

“Obviously the safety and well-being of the student is everyone’s top priority,” said Lovick. “Educating parents, coaches, and the athletes themselves, so the player only returns to play once he or she is physically ready, is essential.”

For more information about proper concussion evaluation and treatment visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “Heads Up” website at http://www.cdc.gov/concussion/HeadsUp/youth.html. Additional information about Dr. Lovick can be found at http://www.saintlukeshealthsystem.org/doctor/darren-s-lovick-md.