Recently, the national spotlight has turned its attention to the potential long term impact of traumatic brain injury with the death of former NFL linebacker Junior Seau, and the pending lawsuits against the NFL by nearly 1,800 retired players. An estimated 136,000 concussions occur per academic year in high schools alone. While eliminating concussions for athletes is impossible, steps can be taken to help the doctor assess when the athlete is ready to get back on the field.
The first step in protecting the athlete is to know the symptoms of a concussion. The most common symptom is a headache, but other symptoms include: amnesia, nausea, dizziness, balance problems, light sensitivity, blurred or double vision, feeling in a “fog”, change in normal sleep pattern, reduced field of vision, and unsteady eye movements. Recognizing these symptoms and reporting them to an athletic trainer or trained healthcare professional is critical to ensure further injury does not occur. As an eye doctor that provides neuro-vision rehabilitation, I am able to address persistent concussive symptoms related to vision. Often times a small prescription that the athlete was previously able to compensate for is now difficult to overcome as the brain heals from a moderate to severe concussion. A benefit can also be seen with tinted lenses to reduce light sensitivity. Beyond glasses, in-office neuro-vision rehabilitation can be performed, similar to physical therapy and occupational therapy, to address visual deficits.
The next step in protection is undergoing baseline testing, such as the ImPACT Test, which is now being provided at the Vision Development Center. ImPACT provides computerized neurocognitive assessment tools that are used by medical doctors, psychologists, athletic trainers, and other licensed healthcare professionalsto assist them in determining an athlete’s ability to return to play after suffering a concussion. The test should initially be performed as a baseline and then repeated if a concussion occurs to determine if cognitive processing is at an acceptable level to return to play. The NFL, NHL, NCAA and some high schools across the country require the ImPACT test be performed prior to the start of the season. The Vision Development Center will run the assessment and provide results to the athletic trainer and concussion specialist for evaluation. The baseline assessment is $20 and can be scheduled by calling 913.682.3937.
As concussions are unfortunately an inevitable part of sports it is important to be prepared and knowledgeable. Baseline testing allows doctors more information to make decisions regarding the athlete’s readiness to return to play.
As the evidence of the negative long term effects of concussions mounts, neurocognitive testing will be added to the pre-season ritual alongside physicals and new shoes.