Screens. Lights. Voices. Everyday life. Imagine if all of the things surrounding you suddenly became too painful to behold. Your only escape: darkness and loneliness. One hit and your life flips. A concussion.
In order to prevent athletes from suffering these consequences, the PHS athletic department is attempting to increase awareness and implement precautionary measures, such as impact testing.
“[Impact testing] is not a requirement by the state, but it’s definitely a really helpful tool that helps us determine when athletes are fit to return to play,” certified athletic trainer Eddy Rodriguez said.
The test itself is done on a computer and takes roughly 30 to 45 minutes to complete. Athletes are asked to perform basic memorization and concentration tasks to provide information about their baseline brain functions.
“If we establish a baseline pre-injury, when they are injured with a concussion and then resolved, we can test them again and if they perform at their baseline or better then we know that they have recovered,” Rodriguez said.
In previous years, impact testing was only required for athletes playing sports that had a high risk of collisions, such as football and soccer. However, starting last year, the athletic department began expanding the scope of the testing to cover all sports.
“Ideally we would like to have all sports do it,” Rodriguez said. “That’s one of the biggest controversies—when are athletes fit to play—We can say, ‘oh, when they are feeling better, or when their symptoms resolve,’ but just because their symptoms resolve, there still might be some underlying deficits.”
Women’s lacrosse head coach Emily Hook said that she thinks impact testing should be required for all athletes playing an impact sport.
“I’m a firm believer in safety first,” Hook said. “I’d rather be safe than sorry.”
It is currently mandatory for all PHS coaches to complete a concussion awareness course designed by the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS). However, it would also be beneficial if players and parents were exposed more information about concussions, Hook said.
“[If there was something simple], like fire safety, ‘stop, drop roll’, for concussions, I think it would be great,” Hook said.
On the field, Hook said she coaches her players to be constantly aware of their surroundings.
“I typically say to my players, ‘If you miss this catch, is the ball going to hit somebody?’” Hook said.
Recent research about the effects of concussions has brought more attention to the subject, Hook said.
Rodriguez agreed and said that over the past decades there has been growing interest in regards to the topic of concussions, which has led to new and innovative research that allows medical professionals to diagnose concussions more accurately.
“Because there is an increase in awareness, this may lead to more concussions being reported to medical professionals due to the recognition of certain signs and symptoms,” Rodriguez said.
However, Rodriguez said some athletes still attempt to hide their symptoms and fail to report concussions in order to continue playing. This is extremely dangerous because a concussed brain is more susceptible to concurrent injuries and also prone to a condition called “second-impact syndrome,” which can lead to rapid brain swelling.
“Prolonged recovery and later-life cognitive impairments are also risks that are associated with playing sports with a concussion,” Rodriguez said. “It is imperative that athletes fully recover before being allowed to return to their sport.”
In order to prevent such long-lasting injuries and account for the upsurge in concussions, some schools have begun mandating athletes to wear protective headgear.
“[Last] year we played a team where they all had headgear,” soccer player, senior Nick Loduca said.
Throughout his soccer career, Loduca sustained several concussions. After his last concussion his coach required him to wear headgear for the remainder of the season, Loduca said.
However, Rodriguez said that the advances in protective gear may also be another factor contributing to the increasing number of concussions.
“Athletes are now hitting harder and faster at younger ages because they may feel ‘invincible’ in their protective equipment,” Rodriguez said.
If athletes suffer more than one concussion in a sports season, it is up to their medical doctor to decide whether to allow them to continue playing, Rodriguez said.
After sustaining multiple concussions last year, Loduca said he decided to pursue running and biking instead of soccer.
Similarly, sophomore Kevin Judd, who sustained two serious concussions consecutively in eighth grade, said he was advised by his doctor to avoid all contact sports in high school. He now participates in cross country and track and field instead of soccer.
Returning to school after concussions was a difficult process, Judd said. He was not allowed to look at screens or write for about a week after each concussion. The teachers were flexible, but the time and work missed was hard to make-up.
“I would go to school, see how I was doing, and then usually go home because I would get a headache,” Judd said.
Concussion severity varies individually; therefore, students with concussions are prescribed different school accommodations, counselor Ashley English said. After students are diagnosed by their personal physician, the counseling office reviews the student’s needs with their teachers.
“It can be anything from reduced homework or assignments, limited computer use, limitations placed on the amount of reading,” English said.