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Baseline balance testing for sports concussion victims

Updated: 07/24/2014 1:05 PM
Created: 07/23/2014 6:51 PM WNYT.com
By: WNYT Staff

Increasingly, there's a move to limit how much full contact practice student-athletes can participate in.

The goal is to protect their brains. 

Now, there's a new tool helping to determine when a concussed brain has healed enough to let kids get back to their sport. Ellis Physical Therapy is using it.

Physical Therapist, Dr. Audrey Paslow administered a baseline balance test to 12 year old Conor Van Sise. Conor plays soccer and that puts him at risk for a concussion.

If a student athlete returns to their sport before their brain is fully healed they run the risk of a second injury with potentially, dire consequences.

“Second impact syndrome is when you have a second head injury probably immediately following the first and there's actually brain swell that occurs and it can kill the person,” explained Dr. Paslow.

That's why the old phrase, having your bell rung is really a warning signal to get that athlete off the field.

As Dr. Paslow explained, neuro-congnitive testing done after an athlete suffers a concussion is good a determining recovery but the balance testing adds another layer of information. By determining a child's balance abilities before injury, their balance can be measured post-concussion to help determine when their brains have fully healed.

“If you're interviewing someone, if you're just asking them a couple of questions on the sidelines and you're doing some of the neuro-cognitive testing,” explained Dr. Paslow. “Right now studies show 65 percent sensitivity in terms of identifying the symptoms that we're looking for. Does this person have a concussion of do they not? If we add a balance testing it becomes 92 percent sensitive.”

However, you need to know what a student's normal balance is, so the neuro balance test is recommended at the start of each sport season by the CDC and NCAA.

Students like Conor are put through their paces. With eyes closed they balance first with their feet together, then on one leg and finally one foot in front of the other. Then they'll do it all again on a softer surface which simulates the turf most kids play on.

As Dr. Paslow points out, concussion can increase your risk for further injury because balance is compromised.

“Signs and symptoms of a concussion can sometimes take anywhere from 24 to 72 hours to fully develop. So that's why we don't want to miss these things and put these children at risk for a second impact,” explained Dr. Paslow.

I have to note - Conor's dad is also a physical therapist with Ellis Physical Therapy in Clifton Park.

The balance evaluation costs $50. Insurance does not cover it.

For more information on concussion management, please click here.

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