The News & Observer featured a front-page story today about the renewed emphasis on preventing concussions in professional sports like the NHL. Dr. John Wooten, a pediatric neurologist with Raleigh Neurology, is focused on helping young athletes recover from concussions at the WakeMed Concussion Clinic. The clinic helps determine when it is safe for a student athlete to return to the playing field and the classroom following a concussion.
From the National Football League to North Carolina high schools, there’s a growing awareness of the potentially serious damage that concussions can cause athletes. The NFL has adopted guidelines that require athletes to be cleared by independent doctors before they can return to the football field and the NHL is studying the issue this week. A similar policy has been in place at North Carolina high schools since last year.
And the need is real, in 2008, according to the Thompson Emergency Department Database, 1,318 Wake County patients ages 0 to 17 were seen and discharged from emergency departments with a diagnosis of concussion or closed head injury. Additionally, The Center for Disease Control estimates that 1.6-3.8 million recreation-related concussions occur each year in the United States and 5 to13 percent of these injuries result in an emergency department visit.
Returning to the playing field – or even the classroom – after a concussion too soon can provide stress that prevents the brain from healing properly. It also puts athletes at risk of Second Impact Syndrome, a second injury to the brain before it is fully healed that causes swelling of the brain. It is a serious condition that has resulted in the death of two North Carolina high school football players.
The WakeMed Concussion Clinic, is one of the only dedicated clinics in the nation that provides students with the same level of care that many professional athletes receive. The clinic puts students through a series of tests to evaluate their balance and cognitive skills, including a computer test that requires you to recognize and recall a series of shapes, words and objects. It is the same advanced test that is used by the NFL, NHL and Major League Baseball to evaluate the cognitive skills of professional athletes.