March 19, 2015

Concussion Center reaching beyond school-based sports

For athletes in non-school-based sports, such as taekwondo and gymnastics, the Vanderbilt Sports Concussion Center offers return-to-play protocols for concussion injury. (iStock Photo)

For more than four years, the Vanderbilt Sports Concussion Center has offered state-of-the-art care to athletes at all levels. Now the Concussion Center is increasing services for non-school-based athletes, which includes local recreational leagues or travel teams, or sports like gymnastics, martial arts and equestrian.

“The public is becoming so much more aware of concussion, but we think the next frontier is youth sports leagues that are not school-based,” said Allen Sills, M.D., associate professor of Neurological Surgery and co-director of the Vanderbilt Sports Concussion Center. “There is always work to be done in the schools, but we are well established there. The non-school based sports are our next focus and a place we believe can have real impact.”

Vanderbilt-sponsored athletic trainers are stationed at all Davidson and Williamson County high schools. For athletes playing outside that realm, the Concussion Center can provide the same hands-on care, diagnosing concussion and helping young athletes return to play.

“It is important to return to play in a step-by-step fashion. These athletes may feel fine at rest, but as they get the heart rate up or move in multiple directions, their symptoms may come back. We need someone monitoring their return to ensure they are fully well before they take the next step in their training,” Sills said.

The Concussion Center, in partnership with Vanderbilt Orthopaedic Institute Rehabilitation Services, now provides individualized return-to-play programs for athletes in non-team sports.

The program starts with a full evaluation and gradually adds physical exercise, then agility motions like cutting and jumping, while keeping a close eye on any concussion symptoms that may return.

“Everything is a stepwise progression to let us monitor their symptoms as more activity is introduced, especially as the heart rate gets up or their head position changes. We’re watching for any dizziness, nausea or balance problems,” said physical therapist Brian Richardson, P.T., who leads the program along with Rebecca Dickinson, P.T.

“Everything we do is individualized to their sport and what they want to achieve. It’s really rewarding to see where they are when we evaluate them, knowing we can help them progress and get back to their sport.”

The Concussion Center is also partnering with local recreational leagues and travel teams to educate coaches and parents about concussion.

“These leagues do not have athletic trainers like the local schools, so it’s up to the parents and coaches to be aware of the issues. We want them to have the basic information to recognize concussion and get a player evaluated,” Sills said.

Similar to a first responder course, the educational sessions teach the signs and symptoms of concussions and what to do when one is suspected.

“The most important message is that if they suspect a concussion, the player should be removed from play and seen by a provider with experience treating concussion,” Sills said.

For more information on the educational sessions, or for a concussion evaluation, call 615-875-8722.