Sports Medicine Experts: Concussions Hard To Prevent

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With recent evidence to prove former NFL players are dying from brain disease and with at least two million concussions happening per year in the United States, a national conversation between experts, researchers and coaches is occuring to discuss what players can do to avoid concussions, and how treatment can be more effective.

The helmet-to-helmet contact that occurs at every game has many coaches concerned.

"It's a solid 20-pound bowling ball on their head," said John Bowman, director of sports medicine for Ohio University athletics. "It's effective to knock a player down, so players that are tackling will hit with their heads. It's dangerous; we don't want them to do it."

He says there are two key methods to preventing a concussion. The first is staying hydrated.

"If you're dehydrated, your ceberal spinal fluid, which protects your brain, is mostly water, and if you're dehydrated, that's less water in your system," he said.

Bowman says whether it's July or December, the sports medicine department is always working to make sure the football players get enough water.

However, Bowman and researchers agree, it's proper technique that is a player's best bet.

"The first half-hour of practice is form tackling, appropriate tackling, head up, wrapping up around the shoulders, that type of thing," Bowman said. "You want to limit hitting with your head."

Because concussions are more easily treated than prevented, Ohio University researchers have worked to develop technology that combines data between a GPS-tracking device and an activity-tracking device that will track how much activity a player does in each location.

This device, that users carry around with them, tracks their movements in and around any given location. At the same time, the activity tracking device will record their movements, even including every step they take.

"We do see what we expect to see, which is nice," Researcher of Athletic Training Brian Ragan said. "When we put the devices on, we see a general building up of people moving around and doing more. Which was nice to say, 'OK, maybe this technology can help us track how someone is really doing, on a day-to-day basis.'"

After a player sustains a concussion, he or she can be fitted with the device to be a part of the study.

The goal is to gather data from the devices to allow doctors to determine from the data whether a player is ready again for play.

"Unfortunately, symptoms are subjective and sometimes they could be questionable as far as their accuracy, depending on how badly the player wants to get back to play," Ragan said. "This [device] is like a validity check to say, 'OK, you are telling us your symptoms are gone, I can see an increase in your function. Those go hand-in-hand with what we expect, so I feel more comfortable making that return to play decision."

Bowman has said, compared to 10 years ago, research has come a long way in helping both players and coaches understand the seriousness of those head injuries.

The Ohio University football team only wears full pads once a week. Wearing full pads permits hits that are sometimes unneccessary, says Bowman, but soon they won't wear them in practice at all to further limit those hits.

This is an accompanying piece to a four-part series on athletic injuries by Jordan Brogley Webb.