Concussions are called the “invisible injury,” and it can be difficult to tell if your child may have experienced one. No blood test or brain scan can reveal these brain injuries, so it’s important to know where to turn for evaluation and treatment.
Treating a concussion in a young athlete requires expertise in how they affect every part of your child’s life — including their academic success, mood, balance and speech, not to mention their athletic life. You’ll want a team with experts in each of these areas that can use sophisticated tools to pinpoint and repair the specific damage caused by a concussion.
The AdventHealth Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation Sports Concussions Program complies with Florida’s four-step process to get an athlete back on the field after a potential concussion. But it also goes much further.
Our comprehensive care and team approach helps us meet the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s new guidelines on treating concussion in children.
The athletic trainers who manage the program are like quarterbacks who can work with your child’s school, coaches and other doctors to keep everybody on the same page.
“Our team approach is what makes A’s program stand out,” said John Burnside MS, ATC, LAT, practice manager at the AdventHealth Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation Sports Concussions Program. “It gives us the ability to tailor our treatment to how the concussion has affected each unique individual.”
Whether you’re referred to the program by your child’s doctor, athletic trainer or on your own initiative, you can be confident that you’re in one of the few Central Florida programs that offers comprehensive care for concussions. With three locations, there’s likely an option that fits into your family’s life.
What to Expect at a Concussion Screening
Concussions cause brain swelling that can disrupt the brain’s chemical signals, leading to problems with thinking, movement and mood. Though these disruptions may not be visible to a scan, they can be spotted with careful observation and measurement by a concussion-trained physical therapist.
Evaluation for concussions is made across three broad realms, says Michael Dougherty, ATC, an athletic trainer for 28 years, 16 of them at AdventHealth. In each area, the goal is to look for the evidence of a concussion by the signs it leaves on the athlete’s ability to think, move or see.
The first evaluation, which tests an athlete’s memory, reaction time, and other mental skills, is typically conducted on a computer. These tools can test an athlete’s memory by, say, asking them to remember a series of objects on the screen.
They can also test the athlete’s reaction time by asking them to choose between two objects while being presented with distractions. Being able to respond subconsciously at a moment’s notice — while ignoring potential distractions — is critical on the field.
“If you have an athlete operating a half-step behind, that puts them at significant risk for further injury,” Dougherty says.
The second category of testing involves an athlete’s ability to maintain balance and control their body movement. One common evaluation involves the use of an iPad’s gyroscope to test the athlete’s ability to stay still even as they lift their legs, close their eyes and stand on uneven surfaces.
Athletes may also be asked to stand on what’s called a “force plate” — a square pad with sensors that can evaluate a person’s ability to maintain balance.
In each case, the tests provide solid numbers to evaluate body control. Other tests, such as those conducted on the sidelines at a game, can be more subjective because they require the expert to make a judgment call, Dougherty says.
Finally, the tests also measure how well the athlete’s eyes can focus and move. That includes the ability of the eyes to move from left to right, a critical part of reading.
Ideally, athletes have already taken these tests before their season so that the new scores can be compared against the old ones. Even if that hasn’t happened, the program compares the athlete’s scores against the normal range for comparable patients.
The goal of these tests is not only to learn if a concussion has happened; they can show how each athlete has been specifically affected. The next step is to build a plan that addresses these shortfalls, and to do that you need a team of specialists.
Our Team of Experts
No two concussions are identical. Some may leave a teen athlete with problems with balance, while others may affect memory or mood.
Identifying and repairing these specific deficits takes a team with broad experience. The concussion program team includes experts in the following areas:
- Neuropsychologists, who can conduct a full neurological evaluation including changes in mood and behavior. They can also provide therapy and other tools to support an athlete’s mental and emotional health.
- Audiologists, who can investigate the athlete’s hearing, and auditory processing, which are critical parts of learning, assess the balance system and provide support for tinnitus and sensitivity issues that can arise.
- Speech-language pathologists, who are experts in language and cognitive disorders including attention, memory and problem solving.
- Concussion-trained physical therapists, with specialized training in concussion management, who can address symptoms of dizziness, decreased balance, headache, and fatigue.
- Athletic trainers, who are experts in the prevention and treatment of injuries sustained during sport and exercise.
In addition, the team coordinates with schools to support athletes who experience a concussion. Recovery from concussion requires a balance of rest and a gradual increase in activity, both mental and physical.
Schools can help strike that balance by allowing students with a concussion to take a break from certain activities, such as loud pep rallies and stressful tests. And the concussion program can work with families to ensure these adaptations are in place and effective.
The concussion program is led by athletic trainers who know how athletes balance school and sport. So they work with coaches, administrators and teachers to help athletes get back to the field as soon as possible without falling behind in class.
At the AdventHealth Sports Concussion Program, we know that just as no two concussions are the same, nor are any two athletes. We take an individualized approach that identifies the problems with each teen athlete and pairs them with the specialists who can help.