Concussion Research and Education Power Patient Care

Studying the brain to keep athletes safer

By Mayo Clinic Staff

Michael Stuart, M.D., orthopedic surgeon and co-director of Mayo Clinic Sports Medicine Center, says that youth should enjoy the rewards of participating in sports. "My approach has always been that we don't want to get rid of sports, or team sports or collision sports. We need to strive to make them safer."

As a major referral center, Mayo Clinic sees many athletes such as Ben Utecht who need care after a concussion or other traumatic brain injury. And while Mayo Clinic's experts are committed to providing unparalleled treatment options, they are also focused on research and education efforts to more accurately and objectively diagnose concussions to make sports safer for athletes at every age and ability.

"Diagnosing a concussion can be challenging," says Michael J. Stuart, M.D., orthopedic surgeon and co-director of Mayo Clinic Sports Medicine Center. "Traditionally, concussion has been diagnosed by player reported symptoms, observable signs or some type of examination on the sideline having to do with memory, recall and balance. These are all important, but there's a subgroup of athletes who don't report symptoms or don't have them yet because symptoms can evolve over time."

To address this concern, Mayo Clinic experts take a multifaceted approach to studying concussions and traumatic brain injury in hopes of eliminating some of the guesswork.

Efforts include:

  • Studying the brain to unlock answers about keeping athletes safer: Researchers at Mayo Clinic's brain bank on the Florida campus are studying chronic traumatic encephalopathy — brain degeneration likely caused by repeated head traumas. The team has found evidence that professional football players and males who participated in amateur contact sports in their youth are susceptible to this disease, and they are working to solve additional questions aimed at keeping all athletes safer.
  • Developing and testing concussion tools: Mayo Clinic provided expertise and counsel used in the development of the King-Devick Test, a rapid, easy-to-administer eye movement test. Mayo Clinic is also working on the development of devices that will hopefully be used to quantitatively measure concussions in the future.
  • Fostering dialogue that leads to change: Mayo Clinic hosts symposiums to further concussion dialogue, including Mayo Clinic's Ice Hockey Summits. Discussion from these summits has resulted in action items.

Less than 1 in 10 people lose consciousness. You don't need to be "knocked out" to have a concussion.

Two-Minute Test

The King-Devick Test helps objectively determine whether an athlete should be removed from play. The sideline test takes two minutes. It screens for:

  • Eye movements
  • Attention
  • Concentration
  • Speech/language
  • Other signs of subpar brain function

Athletes are timed while reading a series of single-digit numbers off a card or tablet. The time to complete this exercise is compared to the player's baseline test time.

Repeat Concussions

One concussion can lead to another. After a concussion, you're three to four times more likely to sustain another concussion within the same season. A second hit could be the last. Second impact syndrome, when someone incurs a second concussion while still recovering from the initial injury, may result in rapid brain swelling that's often fatal. All concussions should be assessed by a medical professional.

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