Managing Concussions To Keep Young Athletes Safe

September 8, 2017 - If not properly diagnosed and treated, sports-related concussions can result in a brain injury with serious ramifications. Southeast Georgia Health System is committed to keeping young athletes safe by providing a comprehensive concussion management program to local high schools and the College of Coastal Georgia. Through its Sports Medicine program, the Health System offers coaches, parents and players the tools they need to recognize and properly treat concussions.

Recognizing a concussion and providing proper treatment is especially critical for young athletes whose brains are still developing and considered immature until the third decade of life, according to Beau Sasser, M.D., board-certified orthopedic surgeon, Summit Sports Medicine & Orthopaedic Surgery, medical director of the Health System’s Sports Medicine program and certified in concussion management.

“The goal is to ensure proper management of the concussion, so the students can return to play safely and avoid any long-term complications from the injury,” says Sasser.

There is no blood test or radiologic scan that can diagnose a concussion. Imaging tests such as CT scans and MRIs typically do not detect the bleeding or bruising evident in brain damage and are usually only utilized if the athlete loses consciousness or if a spine injury is suspected.

Evaluation for a concussion needs to be performed by a health care provider that is up to date on concussion management. Most providers will initiate an evaluation with a cursory neurologic examination to assess for balance, coordination, vision, hearing and reflexes. After the initial exam, the athlete will perform a neuropsychological test.

Southeast Georgia Health System provides the ImPACT neurocognitive test in Brunswick, a scientifically validated computerized concussion management tool that allows the provider to evaluate cognitive parameters, mental functions and the healing progress.

The Return to Play Act of 2013, a state law, was designed to strengthen concussion education and help protect young athletes. The law has provisions to protect athletes ages 7 to 18 who participate in sports at public and private schools and in public recreational leagues. The Health System, a strong proponent of that law, works with local schools and sports leagues to provide support and resources, including the implementation of return to play protocols, necessary procedures to help protect kids who experience sports-related concussions.

The Health System’s Sports Medicine program includes four, full-time, on-site athletic trainers at Brunswick High School, Glynn Academy, Frederica Academy and McIntosh County Academy. A fifth athletic trainer serves as community liaison. All of the athletic trainers are certified to recognize and treat sports-related injuries and licensed by the State of Georgia. Medical supervision of the athletic trainer program is provided by physicians from Summit Sports Medicine & Orthopaedic Surgery. The Camden County school system’s athletic trainer also utilizes the Health System’s concussion management program under the Summit Sports Medicine & Orthopaedic Surgery medical supervision.

“Initially, our primary concern about sending athletes back onto the field too early was the risk of second impact syndrome, the catastrophic event where the athlete endures a second hit before the first concussion has fully healed. It has a high mortality rate,” Sasser says. “However, we are also finding that even grade one concussions can have a cumulative effect if an athlete is not allowed sufficient healing time.”

Sasser explains that if a player displays concussion-like symptoms, a sideline assessment is performed. The most common symptoms of concussion include drowsiness, headache, memory loss, irritability, confusion, balance problems, dizziness and light hypersensitivity.

“If a concussion is suspected, the student is not allowed to return to play for the rest of the game,” explains Sasser. “The first line of treatment for concussion includes brain rest where the athlete refrains from activities that require mental exertion such as video games, texting, driving and watching TV. The athlete is then gradually reintroduced to physical activities to screen for recurrent symptoms before being cleared for play.”

For more information about the Health System’s concussion management or sports medicine programs, visit our concussion management page.