Concussion experts assess head injury assessment tools

Kenneth Slack, a student athlete on the Le Moyne College soccer team, is part of a control group for a study of concussion at Upstate Medical University. (PHOTOS BY CHUCK WAINWRIGHT)

Kenneth Slack, a student athlete on the Le Moyne College soccer team, is part of a control group for a study at Upstate Medical University of the tools that assess brain function in concussion cases. Here, he is undergoing an electroencephalograph test to check his brain wave patterns. (PHOTOS BY CHUCK WAINWRIGHT)

Collegiate athletes in the communities near Upstate Medical University are helping researchers improve the identification and assessment of head injuries in sports.

Students playing sports at Cazenovia, Le Moyne and Onondaga Community colleges and other schools may participate in a study that assesses the concussion assessment tools currently in use. Upstate is one of about 10 sites partnering with BrainScope, a private medical neurotechnology company that is developing a new generation of portable, hand-held devices for objectively assessing brain function.

The sports with higher concussion risk include football and soccer, but principal investigator Christopher Neville, PhD, said athletes from non-contact sports such as swimming and track will likely make up a comparison group.

When an athlete suffers a possible concussion, study coordinator Joshua Baracks, an athletic trainer, arranges for a sophisticated magnetic resonance imaging scan within 72 hours of injury. The athlete also undergoes balance and neurocognitive testing, plus an electroencephalogram.

For the study, that athlete is matched with someone of the same age, gender and sport – likely a teammate – who has not been injured and who undergoes the same type of testing. The series of tests is designed to determine the best tool for identifying and assessing concussions.

Slack, center, stands on a straight line with his eyes closed to test his physical functions, watched by athletic trainer Joshua Baracks (left) and project director Christopher Neville, PhD. Before that, test subjects are asked to recite a series of words and count backwards, and afterward, an EEG is used to track and record brain patterns.

Slack, center, stands on a straight line with his eyes closed to test his physical functions, watched by athletic trainer Joshua Baracks (left) and project director Christopher Neville, PhD. Before that, test subjects are asked to recite a series of words and count backwards, and afterward, an EEG is used to track and record brain patterns.

Sports concussion laws

The vast majority of concussions are relatively benign. “It’s really when we don’t manage the concussion properly, or we don’t recognize a person has had a concussion, that we increase the risk for more problems,” said Brian Rieger, PhD, director of the Upstate Concussion Center.

That’s what prompted laws like New York’s, which mandates concussion education for players and coaches and requires that players be removed from play or practice if a concussion is suspected. Medical evaluation is required, and an athlete must receive medical clearance before returning to play.

New York’s concussion laws apply to injuries suffered in school sports or other school-based activities.

hloa-art2Hear Rieger’s radio interview about the diagnosis and management of concussions. This article appears in the fall 2015 issue of Upstate Health magazine.

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