Preventing, diagnosing and treating concussions requires the vigilance of athletes and trainers alike.
It’s a balancing act when football players hit the gridiron – to give it everything they have, while being cautious of injuries, particularly concussions.
After suffering his first severe concussion last season, Kendall Walker, an Indiana State linebacker and sport management major from Cincinnati, was sidelined for five weeks during his junior year because of lingering symptoms.
“I’ve been through a lot of hard hits, but things cleared up,” said Walker, who was part of a panel discussion at the Scott College of Business’ Ethics Conference in March that examined ethical dilemmas around concussions in contact sports.
“When I got that concussion, it was the first time problems didn’t clear up, and I stayed foggy for awhile. Coach [Mike] Sanford was supportive of me through it, and he and the trainers listened to me and kept me off the field.”
Mitch Wasik, co-head athletic trainer at Indiana State, said he sees an average of about two concussions per week in a variety of sports on campus, although football is the most common.
“Everything we know about recovery from concussions, at this point, has to do with brain rest, so we highly suggest no screen time for people who have concussions. If is a significant concussion, we’ve put athletes on academic rest, which means no studying, tests or doing papers while they are concussed,” he said. “Having someone who is concussed do those types of activities would be like asking someone with a broken leg to jump. It’s not a good idea.”
Research has shown 80 percent of concussions heal within 21 days, Wasik said, but athletes can’t push their way through the healing process.
“It’s about resting and reducing stress. Athletes will get back to their sport when they get back,” he said. “There is nothing they can do to accelerate that as of right now. The more they push, the worse it makes things and the longer it takes to recover.”
The university’s athletic department derives its concussion policy from the most recent research that says players are not allowed back in the game until four days after they have stopped experiencing concussion symptoms. Players are also screened at a pre-season baseline testing to measure cognitive functions during pre-concussive states.
“Bottom line, we have a policy, and I completely trust our athletic trainers and doctors to inform me when a player is well enough to return to the field,” said Mike Sanford, Indiana State head football coach. “I want a healthy team on the field that is able to compete, but when these guys love the game, that’s where the decision comes. Sometimes, more than outside pressure, I think it’s about players not wanting to admit problems they’re experience because of a concussion, so we need to work on getting them to report problems.”
It is the job of coaches and trainers to stay up-to-date on the latest concussion research and return players to the field as soon as they can safely, Dr. Thomas E. Klootwyk, an orthopedic surgeon for the Indianapolis Colts-Methodist Sports Medicine Team, said at the panel discussion.
“I don’t have a problem saying, ‘Not today,’ to a player,” he said. “The problem is, unlike with a sprained ankle where it’s easy to see a player limping, with a concussion sometimes the players don’t report their symptoms. Coaches and trainers need to watch more because better monitoring and assessing of players will help. We don’t know the long-term damage of concussions yet, but in the short-term we need to prevent catastrophic events and be better at pulling guys out of the game if there are problems.”