Coping with concussions at St. Thomas

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In the wake of the NFL’s crackdown on helmet-to-helmet contact, a recent Mayo Clinic Summit on traumatic brain injuries in hockey, and a head injury that sidelined Minnesota Twins player Justin Morneau for more than half the season, concussions have become a prevalent issue at every level of modern-day sports.

Concussions occur in college football 2.7 times out of every 1,000 times an athlete takes the field, according to 2010 NCAA data. Women’s hockey has a similar rate at 2.72 concussions per 1,000 exposures, and women’s soccer has a rate of 2.1.

The NCAA required all universities to implement a concussion management plan last year, said Roger Casey, St. Thomas’ head athletic trainer.

“It’s one of the things that we worry and are most concerned about,” Casey said.

Like an effective game plan, St. Thomas’ concussion management plan is a team effort. Athletes and coaches are educated about concussions before the seasons starts. Both sign an acknowledgement waiver that requires them to notify St. Thomas athletic training staff if a concussion occurs.

The training staff also puts each athlete through a baseline test before the season. If a concussion occurs, the trainers use the athlete’s preseason baseline results as a reference point to help diagnose the concussion.

An athlete diagnosed with a concussion has to be monitored by the sports medicine department before they can go home. Once they’re allowed to leave, they are given a concussion take-home instruction sheet with symptoms to watch for and steps to recovery. The sports medicine department instructs a parent, guardian or friend to check on the injured athlete periodically for severe symptoms.

During the recovery phase, the sports medicine staff works the athlete back into his or her sport gradually, checking for various symptoms before returning to play.

“They have to use their brain the rest of their life,” Casey said.

Miles Trump can be reached at

One Reply to “Coping with concussions at St. Thomas”

  1. The incidence of repetitive concussions to professional athletes may also lead to long-term diseases such as Parkinson’s. The chances of permanent brain damage from any concussion is always a risk. As a parent, I am glad that St. Thomas is using caution before allowing athletes to return to play and should always be the case.

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