Don’t Delay in Seeking Concussion Treatment
Athletes are a tough bunch. When injured, “pushing through the pain” is part of their makeup. But when it comes to head injuries, that approach can lead to serious, long-term consequences. Dr. Lawrence Dickinson, a neurosurgeon with the Pacific Brain and Spine Medical Group, specializes in the advanced treatment of athletes, and others, suffering from head trauma and concussion.
How does your practice differ from other physicians’ practices?
Pacific Brain and Spine Medical group is a “one-stop shop” for the treatment of traumatic head injury. We provide a breadth of services and expertise—from specialists in a variety of disciplines—to assist in a rapid return to health.
To put it in sports terminology, we’re the “quarterback” who leads a patient toward the end zone of recovery—it’s a team effort, including active participation of our patients. We don’t just do “our part” and hand a patient off to the next doctor. Seeing a patient devastated by head injury healed and recovered is our greatest joy.
How has concussion treatment changed in the past decade?
As recently as 10 years ago, an athlete who’d had his or her “bell rung” would be told to shake it off and get back on the field—where they would most likely suffer another injury. We think it’s imperative to educate athletes, coaches—and parents—to the dangers of continued play after a serious head injury. Changing the culture of “toughing it out” is the first step. The decision to resume play should no longer be left up to the athlete.
Today, we utilize a series of tests pioneered by noted neurosurgeon Dr. Robert Cantu. Known as Immediate Post-Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing, or ImPACT, this battery of tests provides a baseline for assessing cognitive function in athletes—before and after injury. Many sports teams—from PeeWee to the pros—have adopted ImPACT as a way to assess the severity of head injuries, and mitigate the long-term effects of untreated brain trauma.
Optimally, all athletes should be ImPACT-tested prior to the start of their sports season. This baseline score allows us to track and monitor cognitive functions—reaction time, verbal and visual memory, and recall times—and provide us with a cumulative score of a patient’s brain health. Using data from ImPACT allows us to definitively assess if a patient is impaired after a head injury, and allows us to track where they are in their recovery. If cognitive functions, accuracy, and reaction times are dramatically slowed, they shouldn’t be back on the field playing.
Repetitive brain injuries are a major factor in chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE)—a degenerative brain disease associated with athletes, or anyone else who has experienced severe, or frequent, blows to the head. The recent, high-profile suicides of professional football players Junior Seau, Dave Duerson, and Andre Waters, has led to the adoption of better guidelines on how best to treat individuals suffering the effects of repeated brain injury. In almost every player whose brain was examined after death, CTE was found.
What are the typical concerns a patient has?
Headaches, loss of concentration, inability to sleep, or noticeable changes in mood and personality, are all good indicators of concussion. Patients’ main concern is usually “how long will this go on?”
What should someone do if concussion is suspected?
First and foremost, take it easy. Remove any antagonists, e.g. avoid TV’s, computer monitors and mobile phones, and bright light. You should also stop any aerobic exercise, and delay making any major decisions, as concussion can adversely affect insight.
Typically, someone who’s suffered a brain injury wouldn’t necessarily see a brain surgeon. However, even if a patient’s CT scan comes back “clean,” anyone who experiences any of the symptoms of concussion, or a significant loss of consciousness after a head injury, especially seniors who might be taking blood thinners, should seek immediate treatment.
Pacific Brain & Spine Medical Group, Inc.
80 Grand Ave., Ste. 300, Oakland, 510-886-3138
20055 Lake Chabot Rd., Ste. 110, Castro Valley, 510-886-3138
1320 El Capitan Dr., Ste. 300, Danville, 925-884-2360