Recovery from concussion – a guest blog by Kate Moores

Following our last blog on concussion, I started talking to Kate Moores via twitter (@KLM390) who had some very intersting experiences and ways of managing concussion. So, I am very pleased to introduce Kate as a guest blogger on the topic of Concussion assessment & management – we have decided to split Kates blog into 2 more manageable parts rather than one super-blog (My contribution may have been to add the occassional picture to the blog).

The original blog (here) discussed generalized pitchside assessment of a concussion, irrelevant of age. However Kate has drawn on her knowledge and experience with young rugby players to highlight in particular, the ongoing assessment of young athletes as well as adults and how it differs. Kate raises some very good points throughout but the point that really made me reflect was the consideration over “return to learn.” Looking back at concussions I’ve managed in academy football, I didn’t properly respect the impact that a day at school may have had on symptom severity or neurocognitive recovery. I was mostly interested in “have you been resting from activity?” I think this blog is an excellent resource for medical professionals, but also for teachers, coaches and parents to consider the impact of this hidden injury.

This is part 2 of Kates guest blog (part 1 here).

 

Recovery

Any player regardless of age should never return to play or training on the same day that they sustain a concussion. So when should they return? The general consensus is that players should be symptom free prior to starting their graded return to play and that youth players should have a 2 week rest period and that youth athletes should have returned to their normal cognitive activities symptom free prior to considering a return to play. It is therefore recommended that cognitive rest is adhered to for 24-48 hours post injury. This means no texting, computer games, loud music and cognitive stress. This can be difficult to get players to adhere to however research has shown that a period of cognitive rest helps to reduce the duration of symptoms.

violentkids
“They said something about no computer games”

The concern with any concussion, but increased concern with children returning to play too quickly is the risk of second impact syndrome, with well publicised cases including the tragic death of Ben Robinson a 14 year old rugby player and more recently Rowan Stringer a Canadian rugby player aged 17. Children are at a higher risk of second impact syndrome (McCory et al 2001) and this risk continues for anything up to 2/3 weeks post initial injury. This is part of the reason why an u19 rugby player can not return to play earlier than 23 days post injury unless they are being managed by a medical doctor who is experienced in managing concussions. Below is the concussion management pathway from the WRU.

WRU

Under this protocol adult athletes would be able to return within a minimum of 19 days after a concussion whereas u19s would not return before 23 days. Both groups need to be symptom free and have had a 2 week rest period prior to return. For the younger age group it does state that they must have returned to learning however there is no guidance as to how this should be staged. The graded return to play protocol consists of 6 stages which gradually increase the level of activity. Stage 2 starts with light aerobic exercise, stage 3 includes light sport specific drills, stage 4 includes more complex drills and resistance training, stage 5 is return to contact with stage 6 being return to normal activity. With children there must be 48 hours in-between stages as opposed to 24 hours with adults.

As mentioned, return to learning protocols are less well documented, there has been some proposed protocols from Oregan and Halted et al (2014) who state that a youth athlete should be able to tolerate 30-40 minutes of light cognitive activity prior to a return to school and that players should be gradually return to normal school activities prior to their graded return to play.

At present youth athletes are part managed as students and part managed as athletes, however there is an emerging theme that return to activity is potentially a far more appropriate method of managing a childs recovery from concussion. We need to do more work to align both protocols. A player may well be “fit” to return to school and therefore deemed “fit” to return to light activity and subsequently drills, however very little research has been done to look at the impact of skill acquisition in a physically challenging environment. Learning your french verbs might be fine (in isolation), gentle jogging may well be fine (in isolation) but there is no denying that trying to do the two in consecutive lessons may well be far more challenging, yet that may well be what we are expecting some of our youth athletes to do. We already know that a concussion can impact players non related injury risk for a year following a single concussion, could it is be impacting on the skill level of players we produce?

Howell et al (2014) (here) explain that traditional concussion severity scales are being abandoned in favour of individualized concussion management with multifaceted evaluation of function. For example, the SCAT3 assesses static balance as part of motor control, however Howell’s study found that up to 2 months post concussion, adolescent athletes display increased centre of mass displacement medial-lateral compared to a matched control group. Could it be that we are clearing people for activity based on a static assessment when in fact dynamic balance may take longer to recover? (a potential study for anyone interested).

Whats up doc?

keep-calm-and-what-s-up-doc
This doesn’t even make sense

Concussion management is further complicated by contradictory advice, youth concussion is not only a sporting issue, but a public health one. If GP’s or A&E do not feel able to confidently manage concussions, how can we expect them to make decisions regarding return to play? I’ve attended numerous times to A&E with players who have been told once you feel better, get back to training. With Scotlands new concussion guides they are starting to address the associated public health concerns around child concussion. It can no longer be deemed as just a sport issue or just a medical issue as the potential long term consequences go beyond these two areas.  With the Scottish guidelines being aimed across sports at a grass roots level it begins to address the disparity between the quality of concussion management across sports and levels. Whether you’re an elite athlete, a weekend warrior or a 15 year old school child you still only have one brain!

 

Prevention

Prevention is better than cure right? Non contact rugby until the age 20? I don’t think so. Considering the reaction to suggesting removing the header from football in youth sport due to concerns around sub concussive events, the suggestion we remove contact from rugby is a no go. However there are lots of benefits to playing a contact sport, from social development, self confidence and the physical benefits from contact so maybe managing the amount of contact sustained in training is one way of combating the risks of concussion and sub concussive events.

How about a helmet, monitors or head guards? Considering the issues within the NFL and concussion with players recently retiring due to concerns around concussion, it would suggest that protective headgear does little for prevention of concussion (think back to blog 1 about mechanisms within the skull). It’s widely accepted that protective headgear has a role to play in prevention of catastrophic head injuries (ie your cycle helmet) however scum caps may well give players a false sense of security which in turn increases the risk of a concussion. RFU guidelines indicate that a scrum cap must be able to compress to a certain thickness and must be made of soft, thin materials – their main purpose is to protect against lacerations and cauliflower ear, they have little to no impact on concussions.

Petr_Čech_Chelsea_vs_AS-Roma_10AUG2013
Following a severe head injury (skull fractures), Peter Cech has become synonomous with this head gear. It provides him with the confidence to play – but what does it do?

Every concussion needs attention. Every team has a coach or a parent watching. But not every child has access to a health care professional pitch side.

Cournoyer & Tripp (2014) (here) interviewed 334 American football players 11 high schools and found that 25% of players had no formal education on concussion. 54% were educated by their parents (but who is educating the parents?!). The following percentages represent who knew about symptoms associated with concussion:

Symptoms Consequences
Headache (97%) Persistent headache (93%)
Dizzyness (93%) Catastrophic (haemorrhage, coma, death) (60%)
Confusion (90%) Early onset dementia (64%)
Loss of Consciousness (80%) – how this is lower than headache is worrying. Early onset Alzheimers (47%)
Nausea / Vomitting (53%) Early onset parkinsons (27%)
Personality change (40%)
Trouble falling asleep (36%)
Becoming more emotional (30%)
Increased anxiety (27%)
Table 1: Frequency of concussion symptoms and consequences identified by American Football playing high school students (Cournoyer & Tripp 2014)

Education is key! Players, parents, coaches, friends, family. Everyone! The IRB has some great online learning for general public, coaches and medical professionals (here). Only by symptoms being reported, assessed and managed can we make an impact on concussion.

 

Kate is a band 6 MSK physiotherapist, having graduated in 2011 from Cardiff Univeristy. Beyond her NHS work, Kate has worked for semi-pro Rugby League teams in Wales, the Wales Rugby League age grade teams and is now in her 3rd season as lead physio for the Newport Gwent Dragons u16 squad.

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