Joint effort looks at concussions

PARKERSBURG — A collaboration among three area agencies is allowing for greater monitoring of concussions among student athletes.

This year, student athletes at Parkersburg High School and Parkersburg South High School are required to take a computerized concussion test to establish a baseline for their cognitive health.

If a student suffers a concussion, the test can then be used to determine whether they have fully recovered or if more therapy and monitoring are required.

While the testing has been locally available for years, it has been up to the athletes to seek it. Thanks to a partnership between Camden Clark Medical Center, PARS Brain and Spine Institute and Mountain River Physical Therapy the testing is available without cost at the two high schools.

Officials hope to expand the program in the coming years.

“We have partnered to have the athletic trainers use impact testing,” said Erin Strcula, a neurosurgery PA with PARS Brain and Spine Institute. “It is a tool that’s used as part of a process to clear a child after they’ve had a concussion or head injury. It’s not a standalone; it is one tool to use.”

The computer exam takes about 25 minutes to complete and tests reaction time, memory and cognitive functions. The initial test provides a baseline.

If a healthy student takes the test again, they should score at or above the baseline score. If the score drops below the baseline, officials say there is still cause for concern and additional therapy and monitoring.

The testing is only done for students age 12 and up, and Strcula said she hopes to see it used more with middle school sports in the coming year.

Joe Leaman, team leader of sports medicine and athletic performance for Mountain River Physical Therapy, said the number of student athlete concussions has risen dramatically in recent years, not because of more injuries, but because more people are aware of the causes and symptoms of concussions.

“We see concussions in every sport. I’ve even seen them in golf,” he said. “A lot of people don’t realize, you don’t have to get hit in the head to have a concussion. Any violent impact or falling to the ground can cause a concussion.”

Leaman said symptoms can take time to manifest and include slowed reflexes and reaction times, irritability, sleep issues, decline in grades, or even just “zoning out.” Any change in behavior after an impact can indicate the possibility of a concussion.

“The trainers and coaches are good at noticing issues, but really we need the parents to be very cognizant of their student athletes,” he said. “The parents are often the ones to notice something is wrong. They’re just not themselves.”

Leaman said all 50 states have concussion protocols they follow to determine if a student athlete can return to play after a concussion. But Parkersburg is one of the first areas to implement such a cooperative concussion testing program, especially one required at two major high schools.

“It is an integrated approach,” said Adam Farnsworth, chief operating officer of PARS. “It’s a low- to no-cost education program for the community.”

Louie Haer, director of the Camden Clark Health and Wellness Center, said the partnership also is unique because it is three aspects of sports injury treatment coming together in a partnership. The Health and Wellness Center provides the athletic trainers at area schools.

“We’re the only one in this area that offers a certified athletic trainer, the concussion testing with PARS, the ability to if there is an injury get them to the hospital, into a rehab situation, and then back out on the field,” he said.a