Having worked in the high school setting as an athletic trainer for eight years before coming to the OHSU Sports Medicine department, I have found that concussion management is one of the most complex tasks for a high school athletic trainer to facilitate.
Between the on-the-field examination to determine if the athlete has a concussion, educating the coaching staff and parents on concussion management, following up with the school administration and staff regarding accommodations for the concussed athlete, and managing the athlete through the return-to-play process in collaboration with the team physician, an athletic trainer can find themselves very busy.
One useful tool that assists with the return-to-play decision making process is the ImPACT concussion evaluation system.
This computer-based neurocognitive-testing program allows an athletic trainer and team physician to make a more objective return-to-play decision based on data specific to the concussed athlete.
To effectively utilize the ImPACT test, it is important that at the beginning of the playing season, each student athlete takes the baseline ImPACT test. The baseline test represents the athlete’s attention span, working memory, sustained and selective attention time, response variability, non-verbal problem solving, and reaction time.
If the athlete sustains a concussion during the playing season, the athletic trainer will conduct a physical exam of the athlete, a post-injury ImPACT test, and follow a graded return-to-play program before allowing the athlete to return to full competition. The post-injury ImPACT test reevaluates the same categories as the baseline, thus providing an objective measurement of the changes the athlete may be experiencing after the concussion.
The return-to-play process also includes being evaluated and cleared by the team physician or the athlete’s primary care provider.
The ImPACT test is a very useful tool to have in the toolbox to assess return to play readiness, but it is important to remember that it is just a tool that is most effective when combined with the physical exam and graded return-to-play process.
If you, or someone you know is interested in completing a baseline ImPACT test please contact the OHSU Sports Medicine clinic at 503-494-9992 with any questions or to set up an appointment. We offer baseline ImPACT testing and post concussive management by our Sports Medicine specialists as well as many other services and we look forward to serving you!
Ryan Rockwood, A.T.C. specializes in high school outreach, presents to local schools and businesses on concussion management, and is a member of the concussion management team at OHSU Sports Medicine.