The LECOM Sports Medicine program, as part of its proactive and comprehensive approach to treating athletes with head injuries, recently established a Concussion Clinic at the LECOM Medical Fitness and Wellness Center.
Amidst growing concern about the long-term effects of concussions, the Clinic is just one example of how LECOM Sports Medicine maintains a leadership position with respect to treating athletes of all ages and abilities, including recreational, high school, collegiate, and professional.
|LECOM's Director of Sports Medicine, Patrick Leary, DO (right), and Brett DeGooyer, DO, one of the program's new fellows, are using the Biodex Balance System to help diagnose and manage concussions in athletes of all ages and abilities.|
One area of focus is ensuring that athletes are medically ready to participate in practices and games following a concussion. The notion of premature “return to play” dramatically increases the risk of subsequent concussions and head trauma.
“Athletes are more susceptible after the first concussion,” said Patrick F. Leary, DO, LECOM’s Director of Sports Medicine. “The brain becomes sensitized, and as a result, less force at impact can cause the same amount of damage. It is a progressive continuum.Because of the inherent risks, we take every precaution possible before clearing the athlete. The rule of thumb is, when in doubt, hold them out.”
One important aspect of the Sports Medicine program’s Concussion Clinic is the Biodex Balance System, technology that helps in the diagnosis and management of concussions and in determining when an athlete can again safely begin competing. The Sports Medicine program invested in the Biodex system for its many benefits, such as its ability to measure and record the objective vestibular component that can help quantify the elements of balance before and after an injury. Using the Clinical Test of Sensory Integration of Balance (CTSIB), Biodex Balance Assessment can independently test all three sensory feedback systems (visual, vestibular, and somatosensory).
“Simply asking the athlete where they are or how many fingers they’re holding up is woefully inadequate and a thing of the past,” Dr. Leary said. “Athletes who voluntarily put themselves on the line deserve to be examined by physicians who can properly diagnose the injury and who understand the unique and specific dynamics of different sports.”
One of the challenges is that concussions can mimic a number of other equally serious conditions, including heat exhaustion, heat stroke, dehydration, hypoglycemia, migraines, and altitude sickness. “That’s why sports medicine physicians play such an important role in making an accurate diagnosis,” said Dr. Leary, who also is serving as president of the American Osteopathic Academy of Sports Medicine (AOASM). “Properly trained medical providers can help protect athletes and minimize risk to the greatest extent possible.”
The long-term, residual effects of concussions and head injuries to athletes, including the suicides of former NFL stars like Junior Seau, have dominated sports headlines in recent years. Seau and a number of deceased football players have been diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative disease linked to possible traumatic brain injury.
More recently, the NCAA, the governing body for collegiate athletics, announced it will provide $70 million for concussion testing and diagnosis of current and former student-athletes as part of its agreement to settle claims in several concussion-related class actions.
Dr. Leary, who formerly served as Team Physician at the University of Notre Dame, his alma mater, is concerned the settlement won’t fully address some of the related issues or help student-athletes who’ve already suffered concussions. However, he is encouraged by the fact that the agreement does set aside funds for education and research and places more emphasis on preventative measures.
“Education, in terms of coaching seminars to inform athletic staffs, and the technology used to examine athletes are crucial,” he said. “One positive aspect of the settlement is that it will potentially mandate colleges and universities to have physicians knowledgeable in concussions present on the sidelines during high-risk athletic events.”
LECOM’s Sports Medicine physicians, including Dr. Leary, Anthony Ferretti, DO, Greg Coppola, DO, Steven Habusta, DO, Josh Tuck, DO, and Chris Rial, DO, serve as Team Physicians for the Erie Otters, Erie Explosion, Erie BayHawks, and the intercollegiate athletic teams of Mercyhurst University. The LECOM physicians are training three new sports medicine fellows: Darin Gwartney, DO, Joshua Smith, DO, and Brett DeGooyer, DO.
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