Capital Institute for Neurosciences

Athletes and Concussions: Evaluation and Treatment

ATLANTIC CITY —  It's a question Dr. Emil L. Matarese, Director of the Concussion Center at the Capital Institute for Neurosciences, hears often: “When can I go back to play?”

The young athlete who has suffered a concussion wants to return to play his or her sport. Sometimes the parent and coach want the athlete back on the field, as well.

“But what I want is for the child to grow up with a healthy brain,” Dr. Matarese said. He discussed the evaluation and treatment of athletes with cerebral concussion at the Capital Institute for Neurosciences 5th Annual Conference.

He said there is no such thing as a mild concussion — all concussions are serious. And an athlete can experience a concussion without ever losing consciousness.

He said careful observation and clinical evaluation is necessary. Signs of a concussion can include physical and behavioral symptoms, such as headache, dizziness, insomnia, fatigue and nausea, among others. Other signs can be changes in behavior, such as irritability, depression, anxiety and sleep disturbances.

Dr. Matarese told health care professionals at the conference that careful steps are required before an athlete can return to the field. Anyone with a concussion must first rest both physically and cognitively, and that means no school or physical activity.

A student must be completely symptom free before they can return to sports.

“I have kids tell me, 'But my headaches are almost gone.' Or they say, 'I’m hardly dizzy anymore.' That's not good enough,” he said.

He described the careful steps necessary to slowly integrate the athlete back into physical activity and school and, finally, sports. He also said friends, family and school personnel all must be aware of the signs and symptoms of concussion.

“A second impact prior to full recovery can cause serious brain injury, including cerebral swelling and be very, very serious. This does not even need to be a major injury,” he said. “It's so important that we educate people in our schools and even in the medical community about the seriousness of concussion.”

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