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Vanderbilt Launches Sports Concussion Center

The newly formed Vanderbilt Sports Concussion Center will integrate and standardize the care of athletes and others who suffer concussion.Vanderbilt

Fall brings renewed participation in grade school, high school and professional athletics, including sports such as football that place participants at increased risk to suffer concussion.

To comprehensively address this potentially life-altering form of injury, Vanderbilt University Medical Center has created a special program to integrate and standardize the care of athletes and others who suffer concussion.

The newly formed program, the Vanderbilt Sports Concussion Center, is a joint venture between the Vanderbilt Orthopaedics Institute and Vanderbilt Neurosciences Institute.

"Our goal is simple," said Allen Sills, M.D., associate professor of Neurological Surgery, who will lead the Concussion Center along with Gary Solomon, Ph.D., and Andrew Gregory, M.D.

"We will take care of all concussed athletes at every level, from professionals to grade school, and give them the same state-of-the-art care, using the latest technology and research findings."

A concussion is a type of brain injury that occurs after a blow to the head and may affect memory, senses, speech, balance and sleep. Symptoms include headache, nausea and tiredness.

A major component of developing the Concussion Center was standardizing concussion treatment protocol at all Vanderbilt hospitals and clinics.

Athletes can enter the Vanderbilt system from many points - an emergency room visit, an evaluation by an athletic trainer during competition or a referral by a primary care physician, for example - and it is important that all receive the same care.

"It's a big effort and involves not just those on campus but providers in Williamson County and outlying clinics in Tennessee and Kentucky. Everywhere Vanderbilt is represented, we will offer state-of-the-art concussion care," Sills said.

Prior to forming the Concussion Center, treatments were provider-specific. Now, using the electronic medical record, there is a standardized symptom checklist and neurocognitive and balance assessments. The standardized protocols will also expedite research.

"The challenge with concussion is diagnosis because you can't see a concussion on the outside. Most patients look normal and have normal brain scans but still may have a very significant injury. That's where you need a provider who knows the right questions to ask, the right assessment tools to use and right strategies for managing the concussion," Sills said.

The Concussion Center will treat both children and adults, with specialized care for children. "Their developing brain seems to be more susceptible to injury and often takes longer to recover," Gregory said.

The Concussion Center will offer ImPACT (Immediate Post-Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing), a computerized concussion evaluation system.  ImPACT includes a baseline test of factors including reaction time, memory and attention span, which can be compared to post-injury tests to track an athlete's recovery and assist in determining a safe time to return to play.

All high school, college and professional athletes cared for by Vanderbilt providers will receive ImPACT baseline testing before their season begins.

"We're very interested in not only the individual but also our team coverage. We're focused not only on concussion management but also looking at overall policy guidelines and equipment that is unique to specific sports," Sills said.

Though the size of the playing field remains the same, athletes are becoming bigger, faster and stronger, resulting in more concussions, Solomon said.

"I try to explain to athletes that the brain weighs about three pounds, and the average athlete is 200 pounds. But the three pounds controls the other 197. If the brain is compromised, there are potential problems, and that's what we're here to manage," Solomon said.

To reach the Vanderbilt Sports Concussion Center, call (615) 875-VSCC, or visit our website

Posted October 18, 2011