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Richmond Times Dispatch (Virginia)
FC Richmond has teamed with Sheltering Arms to tackle concussions head-on.
The soccer club and health system have implemented a new baseline concussion test that all FC Richmond travel athletes must complete.
"One of the things we identified as something we wanted to be proactive about is concussion awareness," said Kris South, FC Richmond's director of operations and marketing.
Concussions in soccer are becoming more common. Cristin Beazley, clinical lead of Sheltering Arms' total concussion care program, said that may be because more people than ever are playing the sport.
It also is a coed sport, which could inflate the numbers further, she added.
Regardless, concussions are still a serious issue to address, and baseline testing is a good place to start, Beazley said.
Baseline testing has been conducted on the club's travel players twice - in the fall and spring - for a total of 400 participants. Their ages range from 8 to 18.
Sheltering Arms decided to offer three tests at a discounted rate to the players' families. The scores act as a measure against which coaches and physical therapists can compare scores after an injury, to better gauge whether the player has suffered a concussion.
"Baseline (tests) not only help us determine changes (in the player) after concussion, it also helps us better determine when they're ready to play again," Beazley said.
Sheltering Arms had players conduct three tests. ImPACT is a computerized test that gauges verbal and visual memory; the King-Devic test measures motor performance; and the Y-balance test can help identify injuries, Beazley said.
South said the King-Devic test also is easy to conduct on the sidelines of a game, so if an athlete has received a blow to the head, FC Richmond's trainer can do the test quickly and see if there's a concerning variance in the score.
Concussions can result in a wide array of symptoms, from dizziness and neck pain to memory loss and irritability, so having Sheltering Arms conduct a package of tests that checks a variety of symptoms was especially helpful, South said.
Bringing in Sheltering Arms "closed the loop on (FC Richmond's) health care protocol," South added. If the team's trainer concludes the player indeed has a concussion, they will send him or her to Sheltering Arms for treatment.
The club has been trying to be proactive about concussions, since the treatment for the injuries changes rapidly.
"They're giving their parents a plan," Beazley said. "If your child has this injury, we have a plan for them. ... We have a place to send them that can help you navigate this process and navigate the child returning to sports and to school and take the fear and anxiety out of the injury."
Concussions are common in soccer partially because players strike the ball with their heads. But South said it isn't necessarily the player's act of heading the ball that causes the injury - it's when players' heads collide after heading the ball, or when their heads hit the ground, that concussions occur.
"Research is finding that neck strength in young athletes - and particularly in girls - is lower," South said. "Because of their neck strength, when they collide with another player, they're not able to stabilize their head and neck as well as older athletes and adults."
Beazley said Sheltering Arms is preparing to start a research study into whether prehabilitation - training to prevent injuries - could help FC Richmond's players avoid concussions.
They will look at things ranging from neck-strengthening exercises to reaction-time drills to help players absorb impact and give them skills to avoid concussions.
"A lot of our kids don't have good posture," Beazley said. "They have rounded shoulders, forward head positions, and we're sending them into sports (that require strong necks). A lot of them are weak in upper back and neck."
"Improved reaction time and improved depth perception can help reduce the risk," she added. "Teaching kids how to take contact, brace themselves so they can stabilize themselves and be in a better position ... and a better overall sense of athleticism on the field, I would theorize, can help reduce your overall risk of concussion."
The study could last as long as four years. Sheltering Arms is seeking a grant from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that could help it extend the study to other soccer clubs in the area.
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