Healthline: Concussion, helmet safety concerning young athletes

Published: Aug. 13, 2015 at 8:05 PM CDT|Updated: Aug. 14, 2015 at 2:00 AM CDT
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Source: WAFB
Source: WAFB

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Back to school also means back to the playing field for thousands of Louisiana kids, and concussions are a real concern. Local sports chiropractor Kelly Ryder said he's noticed an uptick in the number of concussions seen at his practice.

"There are more and more kids that are showing up, and even at earlier ages," he said. "Seven, nine, twelve. So the ages all vary, and it's happening more with female soccer players."

Ryder recommends all athletes get a baseline assessment before playing a contact sport. His clinic features a special sensor that measures balance both before and after a big hit.

Patients perform a series of tests while standing on the sensor with their eyes closed and hands on hips. A computer then spits out a detailed assessment of where and how they balanced. It takes about 20 minutes and costs $50.

"If you would take a concussion, then we'd have a baseline to compare it against," Ryder explained. "To say, 'Ok Graham, you have gotten worse now based upon your initial scores.'"

Other baseline tests are done in the format of a computer exam, but Ryder said those can easily be manipulated if the patient purposely answers the questions at a slower pace.

"This they can't fake. There's no faking. When a patient closes their eyes, they're actually taking out the superior colliculus of the brain, which is the portion of the brain that tells us where we balance in space, and so the moment they close their eyes, it's a whole new world to the body in finding out where they're standing in space."

A proper helmet is the best protection against a concussion. Ryder recommends the Xenith brand, because those helmets feature a skull cap to ensure a snug fit on the head.

"If the helmet is loose and they take a sub-concussive blow, it can cause a concussive reaction," he said. "Where if that helmet is securely tightened on the head and they take that hit, there's nothing wrong with that hit."

The National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment (NOCSAE) certifies that helmets are safe. Executive Director Mike Oliver said parents should make sure used helmets have been re-certified based on their standards. A NOCSAE label with a date should be found on the back or inside of every helmet.

Oliver also stressed the importance of regular maintenance.

"Don't take pads out, don't change the pads on your own, because helmets are tested and designed to work with the specific configuration of a specific kind of material," he said. "But the other thing is to make sure that you notice things. Is the face guard loose? Are the attachments coming loose? Is there any rust apparent? Is there any exposed metal on the face guard? Are the pads, do they appear to at least be symmetrical when you look inside the

Oliver called on coaches and parents to do their part in preventing injuries.

"The most important thing is to change the way you play the game, and I'm not talking about a radical change, but we're talking about playing a game where you don't use the head as a primary point of contact. Where you don't intentionally batter or ram an opponent, or try to use your helmet and head as a weapon," he said. "Tackle smartly, tackle with your arms and your shoulders. Don't hit your head where it's not necessary."

Symptoms of a concussion include headache, changes in vision or balance, difficulty thinking or memory issues. If those symptoms weren't there before the questionable hit, it's probably time to see a doctor.

The Ryder Clinic is located at 6555 Perkins Rd., Suite 200 across from Pennington Biomedical Research Center. Call 766-9788 for more information.

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