Highland News Leader

Test approved to protect student athletes against concussions


In team sports — even “non-contact” ones — injuries happen. It’s inevitable that, at some point, fast-moving players will come into contact with one another, the ground, the floor, the wall.

The way to deal with most of these injuries is known. Tape it. Ice it. If it’s broken, you need a cast.

But concussions are different and scary. It’s an injury you can’t see, and it’s to the brain.

To ensure the health of its prep athletes, the Highland School Board recently approved an extra step make sure concussions can be correctly diagnosed.

“I’ve already seen 13 concussions this school year alone. And we’re only about four months into the school year,” said Erin Hoepfner, a trainer for Highland High School games told School Board members at their November meeting. “This test will make everyone feel more secure.”

A concussion is a traumatic brain injury that interferes with normal brain function. An athlete does not have to lose consciousness (be “knocked out”) to have suffered a concussion.

According to statistics on prevacus.com — a development stage company focusing on a new treatment for concussions — 300,000 high school students suffer from concussions every year.

When on the sidelines of an HHS game, Hoepfner is responsible for assessing student athletes for concussion symptoms and referring to a physician.

The test she’s referring to is called the Immediate Post Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing (ImPACT), a test that adds another layer of protection to make sure students who sustain head injuries don’t return to play too soon, risking serious mental damage.

Here’s how it works: If a student suffers a head injury, a post-concussion test would be performed and compared to a baseline pre-test the student has already taken. The baseline test is performed before an injury, which gives athletic trainers and doctors an accurate assessment of the student’s mental condition. Hoepfner will be baseline testing the students at HHS and working in conjunction with the Physical Therapy Department at HSHS St. Joseph’s Hospital-Highland in administering the ImPACT post-concussion test.

In other districts, clinicians rely solely on subjective observations or patient self-reports to diagnose and track a concussion. The ImPACT post-concussion test allows for an objective measure in cognitive functioning that cannot be accurately measured by relying on a student to report symptoms.

“We are not changing the concussion policy. We will still use the same six-day protocol currently used. The ImPACT test provides an additional resource to determine when it is safe for a player to return to play and to prevent Second Impact Syndrome,” said Jamie Wagner, program coordinator for Athletes Advantage Sports Medicine.

With the new policy, a number of new safety measures have been put in place, including prohibiting the student from returning to their sport unless cleared to do so by a physician licensed to practice medicine in all its branches in Illinois or a certified athletic trainer.

“This assessment is not mandatory, but we do encourage students to take advantage of this resource. Ideally, students are given the computerized exam before a season of contact sports begins. The assessment is non-invasive and is set up much like a video game,” Wagner said.

As far as cost is concerned, the baseline test is being provided free of charge to contact-sport athletes. The post-test is billable through insurance and requires a physician order and follow-up evaluation. The post-test will be given at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Highland in the Physical Therapy Department.

“There isn’t any reason not to do the baseline test. If the student is injured in a car accident or some other occurrence, being able to have the baseline as a reference is valuable in helping to determine if they are able to return to activity, whether it is sports, PE, or everyday life,” Wagner said. “The program is available for anyone who has a head injury from age 10 and up. A baseline is not necessary, as there is normative data for age and gender that is used as a comparison, but it is encouraged.”