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Health Information Getting Back on the Playing Field
After a Concussion

How soon can I get back in the game? Despite a severe blow to the head, that is a frequent question asked by athletes who have suffered a concussion. A new screening tool available at Rush is helping physicians determine if and when it is safe to return to the playing field.

With the ImPACT screening tool, physicians and team athletic trainers collect and store pre-season baseline data on the athletes' neurocognitive functional state by having them take a 20-minute computerized test that measures brain processing, speed, memory and visual motor skills.

If an athlete experiences a concussion during the season, he or she is retested and the post-concussion data are compared to the baseline data. This information helps physicians and athletic trainers determine the player's post-concussion neurocognitive status and when it is safe for the player to return to active sports.

"Prior to ImPACT, physicians and medical trainers had some rough guidelines, but no good objective devices to figure out when an athlete could return to play," says Shaun O'Leary, MD, PhD, a neurologist at Rush. "It is especially difficult to determine the impact of a mild concussion. Symptoms could be quite subtle and may go unnoticed by the athlete, team medical staff or coaches."

O'Leary plans to partner with local sporting programs and schools to screen athletes at baseline. However, the system also includes historical norms for each age group, so it can be used even if the athlete did not perform a baseline test.

According to the Centers for Disease Control as many as 3.8 million sports and recreation-related concussions occur in the United States each year. A concussion occurs when the brain is violently rocked back and forth inside the skull due to a blow to the head or neck.

A repeat concussion that occurs before the brain recovers from the first can slow recovery or increase the likelihood of having long-term problems. In rare cases, repeat concussions can result in brain swelling, permanent brain damage, and even death.

"All concussions are serious, but often players wrongfully think it shows strength and courage to play injured," says O'Leary. "Players may say they are just fine. With ImPACT, we can objectively measure cognitive function to ensure we are allowing enough time for healing and recovery."

More Information at Your Fingertips:

  • For more information about neurological care at Rush visit our Neurology and Neurosurgery home page.
  • For more information about sports medicine services at Rush visit our Sports Medicine home page.
  • Looking for a doctor? Call toll free: 888 352-RUSH (888 352-7874)

Please note: All physicians featured in Discover Rush Online are on the medical faculty of Rush University Medical Center. Some of the physicians featured are in private practice and, as independent practitioners, are not agents or employees of Rush University Medical Center.

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