The Concussion Discussion

April 02, 2014

Get Back on the Field Safely with Providence’s Concussion Care

You’ve heard the colloquialisms: “Man, he got his bell rung.” “After that ding to the head, he’s seeing stars.”

But there’s nothing cute about concussions. In fact, sports-related head injuries are such a hot topic that even the word “concussion” is being re-evaluated. “The new term we’re trying to stress is mild traumatic brain injury,” says P. John Georgio, M.D., an urgent care sports medicine physician with Providence Medical Institute. “We don’t want people to think of this as a minor problem.”

As increased awareness and new research changes the way people respond to head injuries, here’s what you need to know.

Prevention and Education

A concussion is defined as a type of traumatic brain injury caused by a bump, blow or jolt to the head that can change the way your brain normally works.

The good news is most people with a concussion recover fully.

“As a society we love sports—particularly contact sports. There’s no way of completely avoiding concussions,” says Michael Marvi, M.D., M.S., a specialist in neurology and movement disorders at Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center’s Hycy and Howard Hill Neuroscience Institute. In fact, if your son or daughter participates in a contact sport, the odds of concussion may be as high as 19 percent.

Providence Saint Joseph’s Concussion Management Clinic can help. Now in its second year, the clinic is certified to use the ImPACT test, a neurocognitive assessment tool that uses short-term, visual and verbal memory exercises to measure brain function. “Students can come in a month or two before the season starts to get a baseline test,” Dr. Marvi says, adding that knowing a student’s normal, pre-injury performance can be key if a head injury occurs. “A decline in performance scores may show there has been a concussion.”

Of course, it’s also essential to protect against concussions in the first place—particularly for avid bikers or those who play contact sports. “Proper safety gear is essential,” Dr. Marvi says.

Know the Signs

Spotting concussions can be tricky, since athletes may not experience or report signs right away. Sometimes, this is because they fear being sidelined during a big game—especially if championship or scholarship implications are on the line. Other times this is because signs evolve slowly. “Symptoms may appear right after an injury, or they may take hours,” Dr. Marvi says.

  • Look for the following after a fall or blow to the head:
  • A dazed or stunned appearance
  • Confusion about assignment or position
  • Forgetfulness
  • Uncertainty about game, score or opponent
  • Clumsy movement
  • Slowness to answer questions
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Mood, behavior or personality changes
  • Inability to recall events prior or after a hit or fall

In addition, if an athlete reports symptoms such as a headache or “pressure” in the head, nausea, double vision, sensitivity to light or noise, it’s time to seek treatment

Help Is Available

In California, state law mandates that a medical doctor be on the sidelines during high school varsity football games. Athletic trainers and paramedics are also usually on hand to offer on-field assessments to check airway, breathing and level of symptoms. However, many concussions take place away from the field, so it’s important to have a plan on where to seek treatment.

Providence Medical Institute stands ready to help with 34 convenient medical clinics and urgent care locations staffed with providers affiliated with Providence. Providence Saint Joseph’s Concussion Management Clinic can diagnose concussions through imaging tests such as CT scans and MRI. And of course, all Providence emergency departments also offer these imaging tests. If a concussion is diagnosed, a medical professional will help guide a slow, safe return to activity.

In the end, all the precaution surrounding concussions is designed for long-term health and safety. “In the past, it used to be that an athlete ‘got his bell rung,’ missed the first half, and got out there for the second half,” Dr. Georgio says. “Mild traumatic brain injury is now taken much more seriously.”