Tackling Concussions Head-on
Injuries, especially serious ones, can be devastating for athletes. Injuries are unwelcome, difficult and challenge athletes in ways they are not accustomed to – forced rest, recovery, and exercise only aimed at regaining lost capabilities. There is one injury that can be particularly debilitating and disheartening to overcome however, one that can indefinitely suck the life out of an athlete and compromise quality of life: concussion.
A concussion is a brain injury that occurs when an athlete sustains a blow to the head, neck or any other part of his or her body that transmits an impulsive force to the brain. It results in immediate, myriad and often long-term symptoms such as headaches, dizziness, nausea, fatigue, light sensitivity and blurred vision. Athletes can also experience slowed reaction times, irritability, confusion or the sensation of being in a ‘fog’.
Impaired brain function from a concussion clouds many abilities we take for granted – those that athletes depend on for performance – like reaction time, balance, concentration and judgement. The athlete’s ability to make decisions at the time when they so anxiously want to heal and return to sport is compromised. They end up desperate and powerless to answer just one simple question: “When will I feel normal again?”
Thankfully for concussed athletes, there is world-leading sport concussion expert Dr. Brian Benson, Chief Medical Officer and Director of Sport Medicine at the CSI Calgary. Dr. Benson is passionate about continuously improving the standard of care for concussed athletes. Over the last several years, he and his research team have developed a ground-breaking new protocol for assessing impairment in concussed athletes using a cutting-edge robotic device call the KINARM (Kinesiologic Instrument for Normal and Altered Reaching Movements).
With support from Own the Podium, WinSport, the CSI Calgary and Hotchkiss Brain institute, the KINARM was developed to provide objective, reliable, accurate and quantifiable measurements of brain function. When an athlete suffers a concussion, post-injury results are compared to previously established baseline testing to determine brain impairment.
“This technology and the testing we have developed is a game-changer for high performance athletes,” says Benson. “We can accurately and objectively measure things like an athlete’s split-second decision making, visual spatial planning and movement coordination, and compare that to their baseline testing, which can help us determine whether an athlete is fully recovered from a concussion or at risk of further injury.”
The testing is objective relative to human observation and may reveal additional subtle abnormalities that a clinical examination and cognitive assessment may not. This means that the KINARM can bring clarity and objectivity to the fuzzy zone of concussion recovery. Says Benson, “The testing can help the multidisciplinary management team with tough-decision making when it comes to figuring out when an athlete is ready to return.”
Jon Kolb, Director of Sport Science, Medicine and Innovation at Own the Podium says the decision to support Dr. Benson’s research and the KINARM was borne out of a need to fill a gap in concussion care. “We did it because the world was void of a valid baseline measurement,” he says. “We felt some responsibility to ensure we have a valid baseline measurement so that when athletes get concussed we can help.”
With this new tool, Dr. Benson and his team have revolutionized the way that concussions are diagnosed, monitored and managed. This is invaluable to high performance athletes because it offers a clear path to recovery as well as a safeguard against the risk re-injury can have on long-term health. As difficult as the healing process may be to endure, according to Benson, this safeguard is one of the technology’s key advantages. “You can’t fool the machine,” he says.
This technology is now available to the public through the Benson Concussion Institute and WinSport's new sport concussion program. For more information visit www.winsport.ca.
Canadian Sport Institute Calgary: @csicalgary
Written by Kristina Groves: @kngrover
Photo by Dave Holland: @csicalgaryphoto