Concussions are common injuries in young athletes. Despite the inherent dangers, however, they often go undiagnosed. To better monitor and enable proper treatment of concussions, staff at the Sports Medicine Service at Mass General are sponsoring new, innovative diagnostic software known as "ImPACT."
Athletes and concussions: Knowing the ImPACT
It's a scary scene played out on high school athletic fields, rinks and courts across the country all too often. Crowd excitement fades to silence as two young athletes violently collide and a whistle is blown. According to the Center for Disease Control, 300,000 athletes are diagnosed with concussions in the United States each year. While sometimes evident when a player loses consciousness, often times these dangerous injuries go undiagnosed.
Proper diagnosis is criticalEnsuring a proper diagnosis of a concussion is critical as multiple brain injuries can seriously affect a player's long-term health and can even be fatal. Younger athletes are particularly vulnerable to injuries as their brains continue to develop. The key to recognizing a concussion is knowing the symptoms, which may include headache, nausea, sensitivity to light or noise, memory loss, sleep problems, difficulty concentrating, changes in academic performance, and personality changes. However, though young athletes may experience symptoms, their desire to compete may sometimes take precedence over reporting these problems to parents, coaches, athletic trainers and physicians.
Imaging innovationIn an effort to provide local schools with the most effective tools to diagnose and manage the post-injury consequences of concussions, Mass General is sponsoring Immediate Post Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing (ImPACTTM) software for high schools in the Hockomock league in Southeastern Massachusetts. The tests, which are administered by school officials, are designed to measure an athlete's memory, reaction time, attention and processing speed. Lasting only 20 minutes, athletes undergo ImPACT testing prior to beginning the season and again in the instance of a suspected brain injury. Testing players before an injury occurs allows school officials to establish baseline data and identify any change in test results. If changes occur, that information is used by the team physician – along with clinical evaluation – to make decisions regarding returning a player to participation.
"The Sports Medicine Service is committed to promoting and enhancing safe and active lifestyles for individuals of all ages," says Thomas Gill, MD, chief of the Sports Medicine Service at Mass General. "We feel that helping school athletic trainers, coaches and parents to better understand concussions and determine safe return-to-play criteria can provide a lasting benefit to young athletes and those who help guide them."
Increasing safety for youth and professional athletesThe test is administered and completed on a computer and the software also allows for easy communication with parents and physicians through hard-copy, e-mail or fax. Currently, Franklin, Stoughton, King Phillip, and Foxborough high schools use the ImPACT software.
"With regard to head injuries, we were looking for another resource that would help us better evaluate our athletes," says Craig Najarian, athletic director of Foxborough High School. "This software gives our training staff, coaches and physicians an outstanding tool to do that. ImPACT is being used by professional and major college teams and to have access to that type of technology at the high school level is a tremendous benefit to our kids and their safety."
Schools opting to use the program identify a staff member – often athletic trainers, school nurses, physicians, or coaches – to administer ImPACT tests. Armed with this knowledge, athletes and parents can talk with their health care providers to determine the best course of treatment.
"The ImPACT test is a valuable resource for us when evaluating a suspected brain injury," says Amy Guillemette, ATC, LMT, athletic trainer at Foxborough High School. "By baseline testing prior to the season, we're able to identify changes to an athlete's individual results which leads to a better and faster diagnosis of concussion. Our coaches and parents are happy to have this software knowing that it's going to help keep their kids healthy."
For more informationUnderstanding that the key to preventing serious brain injury is early detection, Mass General is committed to educating community members about the dangers of concussion as well as its symptoms and treatments. For more information on concussions, visit the Sports Medicine Service.
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