Over the last few years, the science of concussion has rapidly evolved and concern over the effects of concussion has become a topic of discussion and debate. Professors at The University of Tulsa Oxley College of Health Sciences are taking their research one step further to assess the impact of sub-concussive hits that are currently undetectable by standard testing methodologies.
A sub-concussive hit is a blow to the head that does not result in a concussion. The thought is that multiple smaller blows may accumulate damage in the brain causing an array of problems from balance to reduced reaction time. “We are interested in identifying the potential short-term risks to student-athletes caused by sub-concussive impacts during the normal course of practice and play, and whether those hits negatively affect players’ balance and cognition,” said Rachel Hildebrand, PhD, AT and clinical assistant professor in the Department of Kinesiology and Rehabilitative sciences at TU. “Our goal is to identify ways to minimize players’ risks without threatening the integrity of the game.
The pilot study was conducted in early 2017 in partnership with The University of Tulsa Golden Hurricane football team. Additional funding will expand the research over the next year. “Originally, we received a faculty research grant from within the TU community and have recently earned additional funding from the American Athletic Conference Research Grant program, said study co-author, Laura Wilson, PhD., CCC-SLP, CBIST and assistant professor in TU’s Mary K. Chapman Center for Communicative Disorders.
The research team is working closely with the TU Athletic and Computer Science Departments as well as Sway Medical of Tulsa, Oklahoma – creator of the first FDA-approved mobile balance test application using a mobile device. Additionally, players complete a daily symptom checklist and their football helmets have telemetry sensors that collect hit location and magnitude. The players also take the Paced Auditory Serial Addition Test (PASAT), a neuropsychological assessment used to test capacity and rate of information processing and attention and the Behavior Rating Inventory of Executive Function®–Adult Version, a measure of self-regulation in the everyday environment.
“Information from this study will allow us to identify teams, positions and practice activities that may place the players at greater risk,” said Wilson. “Our hope is to provide athletic trainers and coaches with actionable information.”
“The coaches teach the technique anyway, but this information is another thing the players can see in addition to the film,” said Dave Polanski, TU director of sports medicine. “With the numbers, they can see the effects: ‘Now I get why they’re telling me to use my hands. In addition to getting off blocks, it helps me to stay healthy.’”
Results from the study will be available in the spring of 2018.
The TU Oxley College of Health Sciences advances the university’s mission of providing a quality education to students entering the healthcare industry while supporting the commitment to improve the lives of Oklahomans. Academic programs include nursing, communication sciences and disorders, kinesiology and rehabilitative sciences, athletic training and community medicine.