Did you know there’s a test that can aid your recovery if you sustain a concussion?
Read on to get the facts about baseline testing from Michelle Gambino-Gorney, a certified athletic trainer for Henry Ford Health System.
What Is Baseline Concussion Testing?
“Baseline testing is an evaluation of your normal brain function that tests for neurocognitive abnormalities,” explains Gambino-Gorney. “We recommend baseline testing prior to the start of a sports season, before tryouts or practice.”
During baseline concussion testing, athletic trainers or physicians collect extensive information about an athlete’s brain health. They evaluate health, family history and neurocognitive function. Gambino-Gorney says that might include assessing everything from balance and reflexes to memory, vision and concentration. “If the athlete does sustain a concussion during the season, we can compare pre-injury test results to post-injury test results and find out how the injury is affecting an athlete’s brain. It helps us make the right recovery plan and determine when it’s safe for them to return to their sport.”
Myth: Concussion Baseline Testing Is Only for Football Players
While baseline testing is ideal for athletes (ages 9 and up) who play high-impact collision sports, any athlete at risk of a concussion should consider baseline testing. This includes football, lacrosse and hockey players, in addition to gymnasts, snowboarders, skateboarders and lots of other athletes.
In fact, even if you just take the occasional weekend bike ride, go jogging or lift weights, there’s no harm in having baseline test results on file. Pre-concussion screenings can also benefit people with physically demanding jobs, such as first responders, military personnel and tactical athletes.
Myth: You Only Need to Get Baseline Testing Once
Just as your joints and muscles change as you get older, your brain changes, too. It’s best to get annual baseline testing. Yearly tests help your healthcare team keep track of your brain health over time. They can spot problems or changes early, before they develop into serious issues. Ask your physician about baseline neurocognitive testing as part of your annual sports physical.
Myth: Baseline Testing Is Only Useful If You Get a Concussion
First and foremost, baseline testing tracks your physical and mental well-being. Even if you never sustain a concussion, the test is a way to stay proactive about your brain health. Gambino-Gorney explains that they can look at test results across seasons to detect changes in neurocognitive function that can indicate disorders such as:
Myth: Baseline Testing Diagnoses a Concussion
Baseline testing is not a diagnostic tool for concussions. It’s one piece of all the information a healthcare provider needs to determine if you sustained a mild traumatic brain injury. In addition to comprehensive neurocognitive testing, your provider assesses a broad range of concussion signs and symptoms to confirm a diagnosis after you’ve sustained an impact to your head.
Michelle Gambino-Gorney is a certified athletic trainer in the Henry Ford Kutcher Clinic for Concussion and Sports Neurology.
When you've been hit with an injury, it's natural to want to get back to your regular activities as soon as possible. In fact, it's not uncommon for athletes to sidestep doctors' orders and return to the field or the court before an injury has healed.
"It doesn’t matter how much you train, or how much you prepare, injuries are going to happen, especially if you're an athlete," says Jamie Schwab, an athletic trainer at Henry Ford Health System. "But the real trouble arises when athletes try to play through their pain without allowing sufficient time for recovery."
Risks Of Returning Too Soon After Injury
If you sprain your ankle during a cross country run, it can be tempting to finish the race. Unfortunately, hiding your pain and powering through the activity can actually make matters worse.
"If you continue to work out after suffering from an injury, you run the risk of furthering that injury," Schwab says. So what began as a minor ankle sprain can evolve into a major sprain that sidelines you for weeks.
Returning to play after surgery demands extra precautions. "Athletes are a lot more susceptible to re-injury after returning from surgery, especially if they don't complete the entire 9-month or year-long rehabilitation protocol," Schwab says. In some cases, you can exacerbate an injury to such a degree that you'll never be able to participate in the same capacity.
A Safe Return To Play
The road back to play after an injury is a long and winding one. Before you can even consider returning to exercise, you need to reduce swelling, get pain under control and get your range of motion back to almost normal.
"The recovery process takes time," Schwab says. "But if you stick with it, and you take it seriously, it's going to be a whole lot easier for you to return to the playing field in a timely manner."
Once you get pain and swelling under control, you can focus on agility and weight exercises that will help you regain strength and slowly return to baseline. The key tenets for a safer return to play:
► Be honest about your abilities: "So many athletes are afraid to tell the truth," Schwab says. "But if you're hurting and you're not competing at your full potential, you're letting your team down and yourself down, too." Even worse, you could increase your risk of further injury.
► Focus on building strength: Strength training is critical. It can help you become faster, stronger and more agile on the field. It can also help you recover more quickly after an injury.
► Listen to your body: If something doesn't feel right, pay attention to it. Talk to your athletic trainer or a physical therapist to get to the bottom of what's bugging you and put a plan in place to address it.
Boosting Performance Over The Long Haul
Unfortunately, not every coach and athletic trainer stresses the importance of a maintenance program. In fact, focused training and maintenance exercises are key to preventing injuries in the first place.
"The rehabilitation exercises you begin doing on day one after injury need to be maintained at least three to four times each week, indefinitely," Schwab says. "If you follow that regimen, all of your muscular nagging strains will no longer be a problem because your body is constantly adapting to the stresses. It's conditioned, it's strong, it can withstand the constant changes in direction."
Most importantly, don't be afraid to try complementary strategies. Practice using a foam roller, try cupping to release tension in the muscles and enhance blood flow and consider getting a monthly massage.
Jamie Schwab, AT, ATC, SCAT, CSCS, is an athletic trainer with Henry Ford Sports Medicine and works with student athletes at Edsel Ford High School. She is a National Strength and Conditioning Association-certified strength and conditioning specialist.
To find a sports medicine doctor or athletic trainer at Henry Ford, visit henryford.com/sports.