TU, Laureate Institute, OU School of Community Medicine research long-term effects of concussions

Playing football, soccer and lacrosse can put kids at the highest risk of concussion . Recent research published by the University of Tulsa and the Laureate Institute for Brain Research reveals long-term changes in the athlete's brain.

Players, parents and coaches have learned some life-saving lessons with the help of physicians at the University of Oklahoma Physicians Center for Concussion.

During a sports medicine clinic, Lamont Cavanagh, M.D., a sports medicine specialist who also participated in the concussion research project with two other OU School of Community Medicine faculty, tested the balance of Ethan Brown, 13, a young soccer player.

"We're using a new technology in balance in an app where we can actually get baseline, objective scores for players in balance," said Cavanaugh, a sports medicine specialist with OU Physicians in Tulsa.  

Setting a baseline while Brown is healthy gives the physicians a comparison should this 13-year old athlete suffer a concussion.

Playing soccer puts him at high risk. In fact, the top five sports for concussion include:
1. Football
2. Girls Soccer
3. Boys Lacrosse
4. Boys Soccer
5. Girls Lacrosse

"The more data we have, the more we can really understand concussions and how to take care of it and when's an appropriate time that the kids can go back to play," Cavanaugh added.

He said the data collected from these players may be helpful in future research into the impact of concussion on the health of young athletes.

More than 200 competitive soccer players and their parents lined up to participate. While Brown and his team underwent individual tests, the remaining players, parents and coaches gathered in a lecture hall to learn more about concussion.

"I equate it to having a broken bone," Dr. Thomas Kern, M.D., a sports medicine specialist with OU Physicians in Tulsa told 2NEWS. "If you have a broken bone, you're not going to try to play. But if your brain is broken you really need to rest it and have it treated."

Doctors warn the only treatment for concussion is rest -- both physical and mental.

"Looking at a cell phone, playing a video game puts a tremendous amount of stress on your brain," Kern said. "So as your brain is trying to rest and recover that cell phone doesn't allow it to happen. So, I ask Mom and Dad to take the cell phone away if they think they've had a concussion."

By teaching parents, coaches and players the symptoms, the physicians hope to unite them as a team in understanding it is critical to make the athlete stop playing at the first sign of concussion.

"There's a law that you have to come out of the game if you have these symptoms. I thought that was pretty interesting," Brown said. "I didn't know that."

There is a state law requiring medical attention before a player can return to a game once they show any signs of concussion. While just one concussion can cause long-term problems, according to a study published recently by researchers at the University of Tulsa and the Laureate Institute for Brain Research, a second blow to the head can be deadly. Second impact syndrome is a real risk to athletes of any age, in any sport, the doctors warn. As a result, Brown's mother left the clinic with the printed list of symptoms held tightly in her hand.

"I'm definitely going to hang this list on my fridge. The list of symptoms," Ana Brown, Ethan’s mother, said. "And I'll probably go over it, I have older boys too that play sports. So, we'll definitely have a discussion at the dinner table about it."

According to the OU Physicians Center for Concussion common concussion symptoms include:
- Headache (or pressure in the head)
- Nausea or vomiting
- Balance problems or dizziness
- Double or blurry vision
- Sensitivity to light
- Sensitivity to noise
- Feeling groggy or foggy
- Confusion
- Does not feel right
- Memory or concentration problems
- Depression or down mood

If your child has a concussion, doctors recommend you:
- Remove the athlete immediately from all athletic competition
- Rest
- Avoid all screen time -- cell phone, TV, Movies, Computer
- Avoid exertional physical activity
- Avoid stressful activities
- If your child is exhibiting complaints or signs of depression, monitor them closely and contact a physician if you are worried
- See a physician to help guide return to play or school
- Allow your athlete to sleep if he or she wishes

Signs your child may need immediate medical help include:
- Headache is worsening or does not go away
- Weakness, numbness or decreased coordination
- Repeated vomiting
- Slurred speech
- Looks very drowsy or cannot be awakened
- One pupil larger than the other
- Convulsions or seizures
- Cannot recognize people or places
- Getting more confused, restless or agitated
- Unusual behavior
- Lose consciousness after initial concussion
- Suicidal thoughts
- You feel that he or she needs immediate medical evaluation

For more information about concussions, contact OU Physicians Center for Concussion at 918-619-4639

or the Tulsa Spine and Rehab at 918-743-3737.

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