PLAYING THE GAME SAFELY: Preseason scans could help assess concussions

Published 12:05 am Thursday, September 7, 2017

With football season comes the inevitable discussion over player safety concerning concussions, and Dr. Adam Breiner says that there is a way to help doctors assess the damage should a concussion occur during the season.

Breiner practices family medicine at The NeuroEdge Brain Performance Center, a division of Breiner Whole-Body Health Center in Fairfield, Conn., and specializes in treatment of neurological conditions.

Breiner’s answer is a preseason baseline test administered to the players that would make it easier for the doctors to access what damage occurs with a concussion.

“Baseline testing for child athletes, which includes neurocognitive testing and EEG brain imaging, is finally becoming more mainstream as a way of keeping athletes safe during the sports season,” Breiner said. “It provides your child’s physician with a powerful comparison tool to help them assess the damage after a concussion, and should be a standard component of your student athlete’s health routine.”

The idea of baseline testing is relatively new, but is becoming more popular with the increase in awareness of concussions.

Recently, the Miami Dolphins announced that they will fund baseline testing for all student athletes enrolled in Miami-Dade public schools.

It’s Breiner’s hopes, that all student athletes will eventually be offered baseline testing before each season.

“Each brain’s cognitive abilities and electrical function is unique, meaning that healing will look different in for each person,” Breiner said. “For this reason, it’s highly recommended that children and teens, especially athletes, get baseline tests before the athletic season begins. Having this baseline data on hand helps doctors evaluate the severity of the injury and determine when it’s safe for your child to return to prior activities.”

Breiner said that there are six things that parents, teachers and coaches need to know about concussions and traumatic brain injuries (TBI).

First, concussions and TBI do real damage to the brain.

“TBI and concussions are characterized by torn nerve axons, bruising and inflammation,” Breiner said. “If not treated properly, this damage can continue to impede brain function, even long after the initial injury.”

Second, that damage can have long-term effects.

“The bottom line is, a childhood concussion can adversely affect an individual’s personal and professional success throughout his lifetime,” Breiner said. “That’s why it’s important that proper care is sought after a concussion occurs.”

Third, multiple concussions are especially dangerous.

“Many children return to sports or other risky activities before they have fully healed,” Breiner said. “Once again, it’s crucial for parents and coaches to fully follow doctors’ advice and to err on the side of caution.”

Fourth, the signs of a concussion can range from mild to severve.

“The immediate effects of a concussion can be subtle or very noticeable,” Breiner said. “Some of the most common post-concussive symptoms include headache, visual blurring, light sensitivity, difficulty concentrating, dizziness and balance problems, nausea, memory dysfunction and fatigue. When in doubt, whether you notice symptoms or not, it’s always smart to get your child checked out after a blow to the head.”

Fifth, is the first and best line of defense is prevention.

“If your child plays a sport and you see unsafe behaviors happening in practices or games, speak up,” Breiner said. “Likewise, voice you concerns if you believe coaches and other parents aren’t taking head injuries seriously. Remove your child from the team if changes aren’t made. While I don’t believe that the risk or concussions means that parents should pull their children out of sports, I am a strong advocate of taking all reasonable precautions to keep young athletes safe.”

Lastly, the standard wait-and-rest advice may not be good enough.

“If you child suffers from a concussion, you’ll most likely be advised to make sure that the they rest physically and mentally for a few days,” Breiner said. “Remember, damage may be present that you can’t see, and the only way to ascertain whether healing is complete is via functional brain imaging and other tests.”