Summer 2012 Issue

Reducing The Impact Of Concussions
Over 15,000 Local Student Athletes Have Undergone Concussion Testing

There's a greater focus than ever before on the dangers of sports concussions for athletes of all ages. From middle school children to retired football players, stories of serious, long-term cognitive deficiencies and even death show the need for proper concussion management.

Since 2007, The Sports Concussion Program at Carolina Neurosurgery & Spine Associates has made a difference for thousands of young athletes in the Charlotte region. This was the first program of its kind in the area to diagnose and manage sports concussions in athletes age 10 and older. The program has grown significantly over the years, treating 13 times as many patients last year as it did in 2007.

"When we started this program, there was very little attention given to sports concussions," said program director David Wiercisiewski, MD. "We had to educate athletes, parents, coaches, and trainers about just how serious concussions are, and the need for an athlete to recover completely from a concussion before returning to play and risking a second, more debilitating injury."

This task has gotten somewhat easier over the years as professional sports organizations and the media have begun to take concussions more seriously. However, in sports, where athletes are often praised for "playing through" injuries and "toughing it out," it can still be difficult for some athletes to come forward and complain of symptoms. Fortunately,technology has made it easier to detect concussions and determine when it's safe for an athlete to return to play.

David Wiercisiewski, MD

Cognitive Testing Raises The Bar
The Sports Concussion Program at Carolina Neurosurgery & Spine Associates introduced ImPACT (Immediate Post-Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing) to the Charlotte region in 2007. This cognitive testing, the same used by the NFL, NHL, MLB, and college sports programs, provides data that allows physicians to objectively evaluate an athlete's post-injury condition and track recovery. The 20-minute test measures symptoms, verbal and visual memory, processing speed, and reaction time (to 1/100th of second).

"ImPACT helps take the guesswork out of assessing concussion patients," said Dr. Wiercisiewski. "It's not the only determining factor in sending an athlete back to play, but it has a significant role."

Ideally, an athlete takes an ImPACT test at the start of the season to set a baseline of data. If he or she experiences a head injury during the season, another ImPACT test can be administered and that data can be compared to the baseline to determine any cognitive abnormalities.

For the past five years, SunTrust Bank has partnered with the Sports Concussion Program at Carolina Neurosurgery & Spine Associates to offer free baseline ImPACT tests to student athletes in Union County public schools, Mecklenburg County private schools, Gaston County public schools, Montgomery County high schools, and Stanley County high schools.

Safeguarding Young Athletes
As concussion awareness grows, the staff of the Sports Concussion Program at Carolina Neurosurgery & Spine Associates remains as focused as ever.

"Risk of injury will always be a part of sports," said Dr. Wiercisiewski. "But our purpose will always be to minimize that risk; educate athletes, parents, and coaches; and do our best to help kids safely play the sports they love."

To learn more about the Sports Concussion Program at Carolina Neurosurgery & Spine Associates, go to or call 704-831-4323.

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