Increasing Concussion Awareness
It’s back-to-school season and we can’t stress enough the importance of educating local communities on the dangers of concussion injuries. RehabVisions physical therapist Lynn Schmitz is passionate about preventative education, being no stranger to severe concussions himself. He believes therapists have a responsibility not only to treat but to share knowledge that can prevent a recoverable injury from progressing to a life-threatening situation.
“One of the biggest challenges therapists need to overcome is creating a paradigm shift in the mindset of the coaches and parents,” says Lynn.
While all 50 states have some form of youth sports concussion safety laws, coaches still ask players if they “feel ready to go in,” and parents want to see their kid off the bench and in the game. Concussion awareness has emerged as a hot topic—even with laws in place, additional education is needed.
“Concussion happens at the cellular level. You can’t see it on a scan.” says Lynn, reminding of the importance to educate parents, coaches, nurses and teachers to observe other indicators in potentially concussed students, such as dizziness, weakness or inability to handle the loud noises of classrooms and cafeterias.
Students need to recognize that injured brains require time to rest. If not completely recovered, they could experience second concussion syndrome, permanent brain damage to cognitive function, or even intra-cranium bleeds and death.
So, what can therapists do to increase concussion awareness in their community?
Reach out to nearby junior high schools and high schools and offer to get involved with pre-school sports physicals, open to both athletes and non-athletes. RehabVisions uses ImPACT concussion baseline tests adjunct to the school sports physical. At the junior high level therapists have the chance to get in front of students yearly, as 7th and 8th grade bodies and brains are still rapidly changing. For high school students the test is good for two years and incoming freshman and juniors are tested. As years pass, therapists can solidify those relationships with junior high athletes moving through school.
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It’s critical to continue educating students, parents, coaches, schools, nurses and teachers on the dramatic performance issues a concussion may have on an adolescent. If a concussion does occur, follow-up ImPACT testing is administered to compare results against the baseline test. Those results are given to the primary care physician to assist with return-to-play and return-to-learn plans, but all groups should be involved or aware of protocols.
Since the initial baseline tests are often administered during a school day, it’s helpful to provide pamphlets to the students to bring home, or provide directly to the school for inclusion in registration packets.
The continuous education and involvement in testing will help parents of concussed students establish a quick mental response of “this is where we want to go for therapy.”
Lynn Schmitz, PT has 19 years of clinical experience and has been with RehabVisions since 2011. He is a staff physical therapist at one of our western Iowa facilities.