Jeffrey Mjaanes, MD, a pediatric sports medicine specialist at Rush University Medical Center, was one of the millions of people who watched Super Bowl XLV. But although he enjoyed the big plays and big-game heroics, unlike many football fans he didn’t get a kick out of the big hits.
"I watch sports as a sports fan, but I also watch sports as a sports doctor, so whenever I see a big hit in football, I wonder if the player will be able to stand up, if he's going to be OK," Mjaanes says.
Mjaanes instinctively scans for signs of a concussion, just as he does as director of the new Chicago Sports Concussion Clinic at Rush. The clinic's staff — including sports medicine physicians, neurologists, neurosurgeons, neuropsychologists, and occupational and behavioral therapists — provide comprehensive treatment for people of all ages who have suffered mild to severe concussions, even for those sustained off the playing field. Patients are able to see a physician for assessment within 24 to 48 hours after calling to schedule an appointment.
"The main reason we decided to organize this clinic is that we have seen such a large number of concussions at all levels of sports in Chicago for years," Mjaanes says. "We felt the need to create a home where these injuries — as well as injuries suffered outside of sports — could be managed appropriately."
According to the Centers for Disease Control, there are approximately 3.8 million concussions a year in the United States. All concussions — brain injuries that result from a blow to the head — are considered serious and must be assessed to prevent further complications.
Symptoms can range from mild to severe, from headache to loss of consciousness and amnesia. People treated at the clinic at Rush are told to refrain from returning to athletics, work, driving and other everyday activities until they are given medical clearance. Suffering a second concussion while symptoms from a previous concussion still exist can result in prolonged symptoms that last weeks or months (post-concussion syndrome), long-term disabilities, or even death.
A Safe Return to Everyday Activities
A patient who has a concussion may actually feel fine and display no physical symptoms. But a test of brain functioning may show that they're still processing information at a level below normal. Physicians, knowing that the patient hasn't yet fully healed, can make more informed decisions when deciding when to allow a return to everyday activities.
The level of testing depends on the severity of the concussion and symptoms. Basic tests involve a physician asking the patient to perform simple tasks: repeat five words a minute after hearing them, or repeat a simple number sequence backwards. More advanced testing can be administered using computers that measure a patient's reaction time and accuracy in recalling numbers, shapes and forms on a screen. A patient may also spend time with a neuropsychologist, who uses a detailed battery of tests to measure cognitive functioning.
These tests ensure that an athlete doesn't return to the field too soon. Mjaanes has seen high school and college athletes continue to play with symptoms, only to fail classes, and have difficulty sleeping, concentrating and remembering for weeks or months.
"People who return to athletics or work while still experiencing symptoms are at a higher risk for serious long-term problems. Therefore, proper diagnosis and management are critical," he says. "Our overall goal is to get our athletes back to their sport in the timeliest but safest manner."
Is it a Concussion? When to See a Doctor
Not every blow to the head results in a concussion. "You may stand up fast and hit your head on a cabinet. That sort of thing happens all the time," Mjaanes says. "You may see stars for a second, then you get a little headache and it goes away in a few minutes — that can be normal."
A concussion occurs when there is some type of blow to the head followed by the development of symptoms, such as the following:
- A headache that lasts longer than usual
- Feelings of brain fog
- Difficulty remembering
- Changes in emotions
- Anxiety and agitation
A typical concussion lasts from one to two weeks, and the symptoms gradually go away on their own. Any athlete who suffers a concussion or anyone with prolonged symptoms should see a health care professional trained in concussion management. If any of the following symptoms are present, the patient should go straight to an emergency room:
- Repeated vomiting
- Balance problems
- Unusual eye movements
More Information at Your Fingertips ...
- Concussions aren't the only sports injuries that require specialized, expert care. The sports medicine program at Rush provides diagnosis and treatment for a full range of sports-related injuries, as well as health conditions and issues that affect athletic performance. And Rush offers specialized care for female athletes through one of the nation’s few dedicated women's sports medicine programs.
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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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