The Future of Sports-Concussion Management

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My conclusion is that the sports world can benefit from a seamless, thorough, and practical sports-concussion-management solution. With the connectivity of the internet, mobile applications, and advances of information technology, an end-to-end approach is now available for relieving the growing concern over athletes’ brain health. When I say an “end-to-end” solution, I’m referring to a program that can be implemented for all sports — from the beginning of the season to the end. This includes four key words in sport-related-concussion management.

Recognize

Provide proper information about the potential ravages of concussions: education that complies with state laws and preseason baseline testing that measures the full spectrum of cognitive and emotional performance tasks.

Report

Immediately assess, document, and report results of post-concussion symptoms to necessary parties. These include the athlete, his or her parents, coaching, and training staff, athletic trainers and directors, medical professionals, and, if necessary, league officials.

Recover

Guide the athlete and training staff through a progressive exertion protocol that helps determine when the athlete can be cleared for return to play, as well as for a return to academic activities.

Responsibility

Understand that concussion management is a team effort because it involves the athlete, parents, coaches, training staff, medical professionals, referees, and league officials. The health of the athlete, as well as his or her short- and long-term future, should weigh heavier than the desire to return to the field.

Internet-based computer technology offers a centralized (single source) method of accomplishing each of these steps, which has never been done before. Online video training can teach athletes, parents, coaches, and educators about concussions and can therefore optimize prevention by allowing them to recognize the presence of concussion-related symptoms. It will encourage an overall cultural shift toward prioritizing brain health over athletic competition.

Responsible adults can use smartphone technology, now at an unprecedented level of sophistication, as assessment tools to document potential concussion incidents on the sidelines. The technology also provides injured players with a convenient method to document concussion-related symptoms during and after the concussion-recovery phase. The immediate availability of email and the internet allows key individuals involved in athlete care to get instant alerts about potential concussion events. Athletic trainers and other health care providers can track injured athletes’ recovery progress in real time, making postconcussion management as efficient as possible.

In a fully integrated program, reporting takes on other forms as well. School administrators can instantly access data related to athlete and parental completion of state-mandated preseason activities, policies, and procedures. A fully integrated, computer-based system also allows for the objectivity and transparency needed for the proper management of concussions under the watchful eyes of league officials and union administrators.

Fully integrated applications should include tools for the evaluation and assessment of concussion vulnerability and/or the development of delayed effects of multiple brain traumas, correlation of concussion incidence, and severity to biomechanical measures such as accelerometer technology, and the effects of therapeutic interventions on outcome measures such as recovery time and cognitive performance.

Retired athletes can also reap the benefits of fully integrated, computer-based systems. As part of a surveillance program meant for early detection and treatment of delayed effects of multiple brain traumas, asymptomatic individuals document their cognitive performance and symptom-related brain function online. A complete concussion-management program gives the sports world a chance to have a virtual neurologist on its team, ultimately preserving athletes’ health and optimizing their performance.

This article was first published in Brain World Magazine’s Summer 2014 issue.

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