More than 75% of the 2.8 million traumatic brain injuries (TBI) occurring each year in the United States are concussions, making it the most commonly diagnosed type of TBI, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Millions more people who suffer from concussions go undiagnosed.
The effects of concussion can be long-lasting and serious, and misinformation can complicate treatment. Nearly half a million children and teens are treated every year in hospital emergency rooms for TBI, including concussion, according to the CDC.
To combat these staggering statistics, The University of Tulsa’s Oxley College of Health & Natural Sciences has created the Concussion Center to address management of recovery post-concussion.
The new center is an interdisciplinary initiative housed in the on-campus Mary K. Chapman Clinic for Communicative Disorders. Services include concussion education and rehabilitation, return-to-learn planning, return-to-physical-activity planning, cognitive rehabilitation, vestibular rehabilitation, and concussion-related mental health management.
“Concussions can have a variety of effects: They can cause physical, cognitive, psychological, and emotional changes. This complexity means that individuals with concussion benefit from support from multiple health care disciplines. In preparation for opening the center, we met with outstanding colleagues from around the city of Tulsa who help care for this population,” said Laura Wilson, associate professor of speech-language pathology.
Through those conversations, gaps in care were identified, including a lack of mental health support for those with concussion, as well as access to service for uninsured individuals.
Wilson and Rachel Hildebrand, clinical associate professor of athletic training, said the Concussion Center is addressing those needs. Both faculty members have research and clinical interests in concussion/mild traumatic brain injury, as well as an understanding of the value of interprofessional education and practice.
“We see clients who have sustained a concussion or suspected concussion as early as 24 hours post injury, and we can also see individuals who are experiencing longer-term effects of a concussion,” Hildebrand said. “Clients can be from the TU community or the larger Tulsa metro area.”
The center, which offers a national model to address concussions, also is part of the TU students’ education.
“Currently, the center provides an opportunity for graduate students from speech-language pathology, athletic training, and psychology to get clinical experience in a team-based healthcare environment,” Wilson said.
“We are working to expand this in the near future to include other healthcare disciplines. The center will provide an opportunity for students to engage in human subjects research in areas that range from prevention to education to assessment and treatment of concussion,” Hildebrand added.
Chris Nerio, TU’s assistant athletic director for student health and performance, said the center is a great resource for the general student population and campus community, but also the Tulsa community once more people are aware of it. He added that it provides a learning opportunity and clinical experience for students in the master’s of athletic training program.
“When we have a long-term concussion that won’t resolve, this will be another resource that we can utilize,” he said.
Nerio noted that concussions are common with contact sports and they are seen on a regular basis throughout the year. Student athletes are more aware today of what a concussion is and are more likely to report that they are having symptoms then several years ago, he said.
According to the International Concussion Society, 90% of sports-related concussions take place without the individual losing consciousness and 40% of athletes with concussions return to play before they should, putting them at risk for additional injury.
Dan Newman (BS ’95), head athletic trainer at Union Public Schools, said the center offers additional space for student athletes and others.
“Pediatricians aren’t as comfortable with concussion because it is ever-changing, and trying to find the right doctor, or the right place to go to to make sure your student athlete or you personally get the right help and the right care – it’s another good spot to go,” he said.
Newman added that there can be long-term complications from concussions without adequate management.
“There are numerous cases around the country with kids still suffering from post-concussive issues, whether it’s in the classroom, cognitively, physically,” he said. “With something like the Concussion Center, there will be resources. They may be able to help those kids that weren’t able to get help before.”
The center is not limited to those who have sustained sports-related injuries. Providers also can serve individuals who have sustained a concussion due to other events, including falls or motor vehicle accidents, for example.
Center appointments are available for middle school-aged children and older, as well as adults.
People interested in the center’s services do not need a physician referral and can call 918-631-2504 to schedule an appointment for the on-campus clinic. Services are free of charge.