Summit County teams tackle concussions with baseline testing
Local company aims to educate, eliminate head injuries
The Park Record
With schools officially back in session, the high school sports in the area are in full swing as they make their way through their region schedules.
Before the coaches could compile lineups and the players actually take the field, however, there are many who opted to conduct baseline testing, among other things, for concussions and head injuries.
“We test the kids before the season,” South Summit head football coach Mike Grajek said. “We’ve got a doctor on the sideline. We’ve got a trainer. We purchased Guardian Caps (padded caps that go over helmets) and the kids wear them during practice. We’re in the process of buying some more, as well, because we feel like it really helps.
“You have to teach the kids the proper way; head up and see what you hit, hit what you see. Don’t use your head in football,” said Grajek.
Melinda Roalstad of ThinkHeadFirst in Park City has done baseline testing — physical and cognitive tests that provide a pre-injury overview of healthy brain function — with some of the local high schools, including Park City High School, as well as many ski and snowboard clubs in town. In fact, the high schools have opted to include baseline testing in their general physicals given before each season.
These injuries, Roalstad said, don’t just occur in high school sports, though, especially in Park City. That is why Roalstad, a former Medical Director for the U.S. Ski & Snowboard Association, and ThinkHeadFirst offer baseline testing for all athletes.
“We encourage, actually, all individuals, if they’re interested, in doing baseline testing prior to an injury, especially in our community given the activity level of all the population,” Roalstad said. “If we had a baseline on many of the adults we see, it would be nice if we had a previous test to their injury. It would help us in the management of their recovery process.”
While baseline testing is helpful, there are other things they can track before an injury, so if one suffers a concussion, Roalstad and company could treat it more effectively.
“That is one piece of the puzzle,” Roalstad said. “It is a nice tool to utilize, but it is one piece of the puzzle. The other things that we actually are finding to be [just as] important are looking at balance testing and eye tracking. Those are our additional aspects that we have added to our sideline baseline screening process. In the ideal situation, we combine all of those factors in a baseline screen for any particular high school or a sport team.”
In the last decade, concussions and head injuries have taken center stage in athletics on all levels. Because of the popularity and publicity of the National Football League, some believe that football is the primary sport this happens in, but Melinda Roalstad of ThinkHeadFirst in Park City says otherwise.
“Football obviously gets the most press,” Roalstad said. “When you think about it, there’s a greater number of athletes participating in that sport. So obviously, your numbers are going to be higher.”
“Other sports that tend that we see a lot of are kids that play lacrosse. We see hockey. We see soccer. Obviously, the ski and snowboard sport [athletes] in this area, we see a lot of those in the winter time. Mountain biking is another one that you see quite a few injuries from.”
According to a study released in March by the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, where they studied concussions in a sport relative to total number of injuries from 2005 to 2015, girls’ soccer players had the highest rate of suffering concussions; more than football, or even their male counterparts in soccer.
Part of the reason why concussions and head injuries have moved to the forefront in recent years is because more information continues to come out on the traumatic brain injury.
“It’s just like any other injury in that you need to understand what the injury is, identify it and manage it well for the appropriate recovery,” Roalstad said. “Unfortunately, because we didn’t totally understand this injury in the past, it just wasn’t managed well, so of course you’re going to end up with issues that probably have occurred due to poorly managed recovery processes.
Now, with the knowledge that we have, we do know how to properly manage this injury and we just need to put things in place to do that.”
If interested in baseline testing or for more information on concussions and head injuries, in general, visit thinkheadfirst.com.
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Dave Hanscom announced last month he was retiring as volunteer race director of the Wasatch Citizens Series after 30 years in the position.