Concussion Care Overview
Penn State Sports Medicine is home to the Penn State Center for Sport Concussion Research and Service, providing management of concussions, mild traumatic brain injury (MTBI) and post-concussive syndrome. Our team of specialists takes care of athletes with concussion for all Penn State varsity sports, men's and women's rugby, the State College High School ice hockey team, as well as community patients. They utilize a multi-disciplinary approach to return athletes to sport in a safe manner.
Services include evaluation and treatment by concussion-trained experts in primary care sports medicine and orthopaedics, physical therapy, rehabilitation in areas such as speech and balance, and neurosurgical consultation as needed.
Patients have the opportunity to engage in world-class concussion research, as outlined below.
Penn State's Department of Kinesiology is currently home to one of the leading research laboratories in the country focused on traumatic brain injuries in athletes. Semyon Slobounov, Ph.D., and Wayne Sebastianelli, M.D., are the principal investigators of the Penn State Center for Sport Concussion Research and Service, utilizing state-of-the-art virtual reality technology.
Dr. Slobounov is a professor in the Department of Kinesiology of the College of Health and Human Development, and adjunct professor of Orthopedics and Medical Rehabilitation for Penn State College of Medicine, with primary responsibilities to teach undergraduate and graduate courses in the areas of psychology of injury, neural basis of motor behavior, and psychophysiology.
Safety in Youth Sports Act
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that nearly four million concussions occur in the United States every year. Concussed athletes who return to the field too quickly are three to six times more likely to get injured again in the same season, according to the American Association of Neurological Surgeons.
Thus in November 2011, with the help of Dr. Sebastianelli and others in the Pennsylvania Orthopaedic Society for more than a decade, the Safety in Youth Sports Act (Act 101), was passed. This act requires athlete, guardian and coaching education and that players who exhibit symptoms of a concussion be removed from play and unable to return until cleared by an appropriate medical professional.
Virtual Reality Technology
Penn State's virtual reality research laboratory, located in the Recreation Building on campus, is the only of its kind in the country. The lab is designed to examine cognitive and motor abnormalities in patients suffering from concussion through a broad spectrum of tests including balance, spatial memory, memory recall and recognition, attention and reaction time. The 3D environment allows for a "real-life" experience and is performed in a controlled environment for the safety of the athlete. With more traditional neurological computer testing, cognitive deficiencies often cannot be detected due to a lack of test sensitivity post-injury, as well as fatigue and false results from the athlete based on repetitious test requests.
Virtual reality is incorporated with brain imaging research at Penn State, including electroencephalogram (EEG), functional MRI, diffusion tensor imaging (DTI), magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) and diffusion-weighted imaging (DWI), to examine the alteration of brain functions and structures in those who suffer concussion.
This multidisciplinary research is focused on both collegiate athletics and children. The goal is to test all athletes at the beginning of their season -- specifically in high-contact sports such as ice hockey, rugby and football. That way, if it is suspected that an athlete has suffered a head injury, there is a personal baseline for comparison.
"Concussions are a silent epidemic," said Slobounov. "Often without physical symptoms persisting, athletes and their coaches are eager for his or her return to competition. After having a concussion, athletes have a 75% chance of a second occurrence, if they return to sport participation prematurely."
Penn State is one of few institutions in the nation utilizing virtual reality baseline testing. More than two hundred Penn State student-athletes have been tested each year for the last five years. In addition, Dr. Slobounov is on a task force in collaboration with the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and U.S. Department of Defense to utilize this type of virtual reality and brain imaging testing on soldiers who fought in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Dr. Slobounov and Dr. Sebastianelli published a book entitled Foundations of Sport-Related Brain Injuries with a wealth of information about nearly twenty years of their team's research. After the national concussion conference in October, Dr. Slobounov and Dr. Sebastianelli will work to write a second book entitled Concussion in Athletics: Ongoing Controversies.
Click here for additional information about the book and various other publications.
Concussion research at Penn State is funded by the NIH, RO1: "Identification of athletes at risk for traumatic brain injuries."