Effects and protocol
November 14, 2017
Most students and athletes know the common symptoms of a concussion: headache, dizziness, confusion, but what many don’t know are the feelings of debilitation and darkness experienced.
Ella Gibson ’18 stated that she “fell to the ground and just sat there for a second when everything was just dark” after getting her concussion, and Makhi Halvorsen ’20 described a similar experience. However, Gibson continued to cheer while Halvorsen sat out for the rest of his football practice.
Grace Miler ’19 illustrated lesser-grade symptoms when she first received her concussion, but reflecting on the injury made her change her opinions of it.
“I did not [pass out], I stayed standing up and I was able to kind of comprehend what was happening, but I could not see very well,” she said. “It made me realize how easy it is to get a concussion and how much it can affect you. When I used to hear that people got a concussion I thought that they just had a headache, but no. It hurts really bad, and it is something pretty serious.”
After an athlete has suffered a concussion, there is a strict protocol that must be followed to ensure that there are no further damages. The protocol begins 24 hours after the symptoms have completely dissipated. The two protocols that are most prevalent at West are the REAP and SCAT5 test.
“The REAP protocol is the concussion management for the education side of recovery. The protocol stands for remove/reduce, educate, adjust/accommodate or pace. So, it is reducing the amount school work that piles up after a concussion when a kid misses school, allowing them rest time while they are returning from a concussion,” athletic trainer Sheila Stiles said.
The SCAT5 is the most common test used to diagnose a concussion on the sidelines. But, the SCAT5 is a lot more effective if there is a neurocognitive baseline to compare to. This can be done by the athletic trainer and does not require a doctor to diagnose or treat an athlete, according to pediatric sports medicine specialist Andrew Peterson.
“I don’t mind being the one to manage the concussion but also if someone is really having some lingering symptoms or really struggling and I can’t get a handle on it that’s when I really try to push for [University of Iowa Sports Medicine] for the Concussion Clinic,” Stiles said.
Not only was the effect of a concussion immediate on these athletes’ ability to practice and compete, it also affected them in the classroom. At first, Halvorsen did not take a concussion test or know the culprit of his symptoms. This led to a drop in his ability to perform well in class.
“It was kind of hard remembering stuff for school, but it’s slowly starting to come back,” he said roughly two weeks after first diagnosed. “My grades most definitely dropped for a little bit because [I] didn’t really know what was happening.”
Now, teachers are emailed to fill them in on the brain injury their student is experiencing. Just as athletes undergo a ‘return to play’ protocol, the cognitive delays may promote a similar ‘return to learning’ time period, which is usually within three weeks according the American Academy of Pediatrics.
“‘Return to learn’ is the concept behind [students returning to school],” Dr. Granner said. “It’s not something that coaches and trainers only have to know about, it’s something that teachers have to broadly be aware of, too.”
The time frame effects stay prevalent in the brain vary widely based on the person. Dr. Peterson states that the “average duration of symptoms is eight days. Our best data is in high school boys where 95% of people are healed by the 1 month mark and 99.5% of people are healed by the 6 month mark.”
At West High, athletes can expect to be sitting out for at least five days following diagnosis. This is because it will take this long to go through protocol to be ready to compete, but for many it takes longer than this. Stiles says that on average, athletes will not practice for “a week to two weeks. But there’s definitely those cases that are a lot longer and there’s those cases that are right at the five days.”