by Dr. Lori Boyajian-O’Neill,Sports Medicine Physician

The movie “Concussion” is shining a spotlight on concussions.

Brain injuries are more serious than broken bones because you can’t see the impact of a concussion and symptoms aren’t the same for every child. Sometimes a child may not have symptoms immediately.

Young athletes in my clinic are all different. Some have sustained injuries due to collision sports such as football, but others are related to soccer, lacrosse, cheerleading and simple play outdoors.

I recommend young athletes get a neurocognitive test prior to an injury. This test can access the cognitive process, including memory and reaction time.

The Sports Medicine Program at Overland Park Regional Medical Center, part of HCA Midwest Health System, uses ImPACT, a neurocognitive test developed by the University of Pittsburgh Neurosciences Center that is also used by MLB, NHL, NBA, MLS and NFL. ImPACT is a tool that helps track recovery of cognitive processes. ImPACT provides physicians a comparison between baseline and post injury data. This helps manage the concussion. It can also help your physician answer difficult questions about an athlete’s readiness to return to school and play.

ImPACT is available to any child age 10 and up. Testing is recommended every two years. Each non-invasive test takes about 45 minutes. Baseline testing is available for groups and teams.

While there remains much the field of medicine doesn't yet know regarding concussions in sports, here is some of what we do know, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

  • Helmets are helpful to prevent serious head injury, such as fracture or bleeding in the brain, but do not prevent concussions.
  • Loss of consciousness does NOT occur in the majority of concussions.
  • Athletes with a suspected concussion must be removed from play or training. When in doubt, sit out!
  • Athletes should not return to play after a suspected concussion until evaluated by a medical professional experienced in the care of concussions.
  • Appropriate cognitive rest and refraining from schoolwork and screen time, facilitates recovery after a concussion.
  • Return to school is important and must take priority over return to sport and return to screens.
  • Return to play prior to full recovery may put an athlete at greater risk for chronic symptoms or catastrophic injury to the brain.
  • Standard CT scans and MRIs will appear normal in isolated concussion injuries.
  • Baseline testing of balance, cognitive function and computer-based neurocognitive evaluations can be a helpful tool for comparison post-injury and to determine readiness to return to school and play after a brain injury.

For more information on concussions or ImPACT, please visit Concussion Management.