SPORTS October 2010
Bumping heads Concussions becoming silent problem among Viking athletes Annie Cohen Associate Editor
Due to a new Connecticut law put into effect July 1 entitled An Act Concerning Student Athletes and Concussions (Public Act 10-62), there has been a heightened emphasis across the nation on concussions and their consequences. The act states that coaches must take student athletes out of interscholastic or intramural games or practices if they show signs of or have been diagnosed with a concussion. A medical professional must clear these student athletes before they are allowed to return to practice or a game. According to Athletic Director Mr. King, Connecticut athletic directors and coaches are fearful because concussions have become such a hot topic. He believes some physicians are being overly cautious in telling stu-
King said. Athletic directors and coaches are dealing with the two extremes of the situation: while students need to be aware of the dangers of concussions, this increased awareness may cause students to lie about how they are feeling. According to Mr. King, they are seeing this particularly with seniors, as it is their last season and many are looking to get athletic scholarships to play in college. “We recently had an athlete lie to us and then had to go the hospital,” Athletic Trainer Ashleigh Gauvain said. Getting a concussion is not like getting a cut or breaking your leg. “[Athletes] can’t see what’s going on in the brain. People don’t respond [to concussions] because they can’t see the blood,” Nurse Helen Donnor said. Because concussions are so hard to diagnose, the Athletic Department’s policy is to wait 24 hours when in
“Kids are worried about not being able to play. Our concern now is that some kids are scared to tell us [about their head injuries], and we are worried that kids aren’t going to be honest about how they’re feeling or that they won’t tell us at all [because they don’t want to sit out].” —Athletic Director Mr. King dents the amount of time they need to be sitting out of games and practices because of liability issues. “Kids are worried about not being able to play. Our concern now is that some kids are scared to tell us [about their head injuries], and we are worried that kids aren’t going to be honest about how they’re feeling or that they won’t tell us at all [because they don’t want to sit out],” Mr.
doubt. The athletic trainers keep logs of students receiving concussions and monitor them for changes in behavior and symptoms. According to Ms. Gauvain, trainers look at the central nervous system when diagnosing a concussion. They look to see if the eyes are twitching, the pupils are dilated, and if there are balance or memory problems. Shortterm effects include memory loss,
headaches, nausea and vomiting, bleeding ears, and loss of sleep, concentration, and consciousness. A study by the National Football League (NFL) found that players who receive several concussions are more likely get Alzheimer’s disease. Other effects of multiple concussions include headaches and dizziness. If a student has had multiple concussions, it is easily possible that he or she will no longer be allowed to play sports. “We have had kids in the school that can’t play sports [at all anymore] because they’ve had too many [concussions]at a young age,” Ms. Gauvain said. What can be done to better diagnose and understand concussions? The imPACT Concussion Management Screening test was developed in the early 1990s and is used by professional, college, and some high school athletic programs. The online test can measure players’ symptoms, verbal and visual memory, and is processing speed and reaction time to 1/100 of a second. It can assist clinicians and athletic trainers in making difficult return-to-play decisions. The test should be taken at the start of the season to establish a reliable baseline. After athletes receive head injuries, they can take the test again and compare the new results to the baseline results. The test takes about 20-30 minutes and must be done in complete silence to ensure the most accurate results. Darien High School is one local school that uses the imPACT test. “We are concerned, athletic directors in general, that this increased awareness and increased time [sitting out] may cause students to increasingly try to hide concussions,” Darien High School Athletic Director John Keleher said. More than 300 students at
Darien High School have taken the test. According to Mr. Keleher, the test results give doctors additional information to use in diagnosing patients. So far in the season, there have been two active concussions. Coincidentally, neither athlete took the baseline test, but they took the test after and were able to compare it to normal levels before they returned to competition. Mr. Keleher has gotten a good response from both parents and student athletes. The imPACT program costs
“If you break your leg you may not be able to walk properly, but with a concussion you may not be able to function properly. People think of [injuries] as the physical symptoms but not the neurological symptoms,” Twal said. Twal has taken the imPACT test many times with a concussion specialist in order to gauge the amount of time he has left to recover. He explains that to take the test you have to be completely focused, otherwise the results will be not be accurate, but it is
“If you break your leg you may not be able to walk properly, but with a concussion you may not be able to function properly. People think of [injuries] as the physical symptoms but not the neurological symptoms...Concussions are not worth lying about. They change the way you function in everyday life.” —Shareef Twal, ’11 roughly $1,000 per school per year. The first year the school receives 1,000 baseline tests and 300 post-injury tests. For the following years, the school receives 500 baseline tests and 150 post-injury tests. imPACT suggests students re-take the test every two years. Over the course of four years, Westhill senior Shareef Twal has gotten seven concussions. His first concussion was not diagnosed, and two days later, he received another concussion at football practice. Twal saw a specialist after a month of headaches and difficulties in school. The specialist had him stay home for two weeks in which he wasn’t allowed to do anything, not even read or watch TV.
“certainly better than nothing.” Mr. King has not jumped to buy the tests because they are “costly” and are “not very accurate.” He said that the results depend more on who does the test and the conditions. Also, many athletes do poorly the first time, and some may even do poorly on purpose so that when they do get a concussion, the results are not that far off from their baseline test and they will be able to resume play sooner. Whether or not Westhill decides to use the imPACT system, student athletes should be aware of the short and long term effects of concussions. “Concussions are not worth lying about. They change the way you function in everyday life,” Twal said.
Photo Illustration by Zach Eisen / Photo Editor