PENTICTON - Concussions in full contact sports like football and hockey at any age are no longer theoretical risks to long-term health, and one South Okanagan physiotherapy clinic is helping parents and kids manage that risk.
Key to understanding what changes a player may undergo through their recreational sports careers starts with getting a baseline early, before any damage is done.
Anke Smit, who is founder of the Pro-Physio Clinic in Penticton and a physiotherapist, became involved in a concussion management program operated by Complete Concussion Management Inc., three years ago.
“They were trying to establish a clinic in every region in the country that could perform baseline testing and rehab,” Smit says, adding she took the course and became involved in the program along with colleague Jessica Slivka.
According to statistical data, 10 to 15 per cent of athletes are estimated to experience concussions each year while engaging in contact sports, but only five per cent of those concussions are reported, according to trainers.
A concussion is defined as a disruption in neurological functioning following significant impact to the head or elsewhere on the body. It can cause a biochemical imbalance within brain cells as well as decrease blood flow and temporary energy deficits within the brain.
Smit says concussion management involves removing the player from play, for assessment and complete rest in order to recover from the brain’s energy deficit.
“Any activity, mental and physical, in the immediate days after the concussion can delay the process of recovery,” she says.
An important part of concussion management involves baseline testing. The brain becomes especially vulnerable to additional trauma as it falls into a low energy state following a concussion, and any additional trauma could lead to another concussion, this time with the potential for more severe consequences.
“How someone feels, in terms of symptoms, doesn’t coincide with brain recovery. The only way to know when the brain is fully recovered from that vulnerable period following a concussion is to compare current brain function to when the person was healthy, using a baseline test,” Smit says.
The baseline test measures areas of brain function could become affected following a concussion. If a player has a concussion, the baseline data can be used for comparison to the player’s post-injury state.
The baseline test measures a number of cognitive and physical components - spatial orientation, reaction time, strength, concentration, balance, visual tracking, visual memory and delayed recall.
“More testing allows for a more accurate diagnosis, where the affected part of the brain can be determined and a safe return to the sport mapped out for the player,” Smit says.
Smit admits the program, while not super expensive, isn’t cheap. She says it costs around $70 per player, for the initial baseline testing if the whole team is involved. For individual players, the cost is higher.
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