Willmar-area sports-related concussion rates mirror state trend

WILLMAR -- About 8 percent of area student-athletes suffered a sports-related concussion last year and several had symptoms that lingered for days or even weeks.

WILLMAR - About 8 percent of area student-athletes suffered a sports-related concussion last year and several had symptoms that lingered for days or even weeks.
Since the fall of 2008, nearly 300 concussions have been reported among local students in sports ranging from football and soccer to softball, basketball, tennis and gymnastics.
And so far this fall, 18 student-athletes with suspected concussions have been referred for evaluation.
The figures come from the Rice Rehab Center’s ImPACT concussion management program, which provides baseline testing and post-injury evaluation for athletes at six participating high schools in the region and Ridgewater College.
Recognizing when a youth has sustained a concussion and allowing the brain time to recover is key to preventing further damage that could have lifelong implications, said Lynn Stier, director of the Rice Rehab Center.
“If we manage concussions correctly, we can return kids safely to their sport,” she said. “We just want them safe.”
The local experience with youth sports-related concussions mirrors what’s being seen across the state. In a new study published in the September issue of Minnesota Medicine, researchers found that about one in every 100 athletes at 36 metro-area high schools sustained a sports-related concussion during the 2013-14 school year.
In the six years since the ImPACT screening and evaluation program was introduced at the Rice Rehab Center, the concussion rate among local athletes has been similar.
Concussions have long been one of the hazards of high school, college and professional sports. But with mounting evidence of the impact concussions have on the brain, this form of head injury is being taken much more seriously.

Starting in 2011, Minnesota began requiring coaches and officials in Minnesota State High School League sports to undergo training on concussions and how to recognize and deal with them, such as the need to pull athletes off the field whenever a concussion is suspected.
After a concussion, the brain needs rest in order to heal, Stier said. Taking a break from sports also is critical in preventing second-impact syndrome, which can occur if an athlete sustains a second concussion while still recovering from the first, she said, noting that a second impact can lead to irreversible brain damage.
Rice Rehab Center began offering baseline testing and evaluation in 2008, three years before the change in state law. That meant many area schools already had good tools in place, Stier said. “A lot of the schools had to look at what to do to manage this correctly. We were already ahead of the curve.”
The program started with two participating school districts, Willmar and New London-Spicer, and Ridgewater College. ACGC, KMS, MACCRAY and Prinsburg Central Minnesota Christian School also now participate in the Rice Rehab Center’s ImPACT program.
The program is a national one that’s also used in college and professional sports, Stier said. Athletes undergo testing every two years that measures baseline neurocognitive functioning. After a suspected concussion, they’re retested and the results compared to baseline to determine if it’s safe to return to play.
The testing is both reliable and objective and can especially help in cases in which an athlete has sustained a concussion but isn’t showing any symptoms, Stier said. “It takes the guesswork out for everyone.”
Although baseline testing isn’t required, most area coaches strongly recommend it to their players, she said.
In the Minnesota Medicine study, football accounted for the highest number of high school sports-related concussions, followed by girls’ soccer, girls’ and boys’ hockey and basketball. The Rice Rehab Center has seen a similar trend among student athletes referred for post-injury evaluation but also has seen concussions among other sports such as tennis and even, in one case, diving, Stier said.
A small percentage have lingering symptoms and need to be re-evaluated two and sometimes three times, she said. There also have been a handful of athletes with two or more concussions.
The message that the brain needs to recover after an injury is not always an easy sell to youths - and sometimes parents - eager to return to play, Stier said. “Rest means rest. They have to limit any type of screen time. Brain rest for some of our student athletes is pretty challenging. They just want to get back on the field or back on the court.”
Awareness has been growing, however, particularly among adults, she said.
“We keep trying to tell parents, ‘Your child only has one brain.’ I think they’re understanding the importance of having their child rest after an injury.”

Anyone can get a concussion

WILLMAR - Concussions aren’t limited to high school athletes. Adult athletes can get concussions too, as can anyone involved in a traffic crash or other type of injury that includes a blow to the head.
For this reason, the Rice Rehab Center offers testing to measure baseline neurocognitive functioning for anyone in a high-impact sport. The rehab center also can do post-injury testing if someone is suspected of having a concussion, said Lynn Stier, director of the Rice Rehab Center.
“We can do that at any time,” she said. “Anytime we suspect a concussion, it’s a great thing to have.”
The fee for the public is $25.
The rehabilitation center has provided post-injury testing on several occasions to people who have received a head injury in a vehicle crash or other mishap such as falling off a bicycle, she said.
Even when no baseline information is available, the post-injury results can be compared to a norm that’s based on collective population data, Stier said. “It gives us a fairly good idea of where they should be.”
Outside funding allows the rehab center to provide baseline screening and post-injury testing free of charge to participating student athletes in varsity and junior varsity sports. The Rice Health Foundation funded the launch of the ImPACT concussion management program in 2008. For the past three years, it has been funded with the support of the Pierce Family Foundation.
The screening and testing tool is for ages 11 and up. A children’s version may soon be in the wings, however, which would allow for baseline assessments and post-injury evaluation in younger children.

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