Saint Peter’s Healthcare System has launched a concussion management program that is the first in New Jersey to combine physical and cognitive testing, social work outreach to area schools, and medical diagnosis and rehabilitation services under a single roof in the treatment of concussion in high school athletes.

The program, a service of Saint Peter’s Sports Medicine Institute, is headed by Arlene Goodman MD, a pediatric sports medicine physician and expert in the treatment of pediatric and adolescent concussions. Goodman joined Saint Peter’s in September. She previously was a pediatric and adolescent sports medicine physician in the division of orthopedic surgery at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

Concussions are common in sports, particularly in hard-contact athletics such as football, and student athletes and adults are at risk of this often debilitating injury. This “invisible” injury disrupts the brain’s normal physiology, which can affect mental endurance and function. Cognitive and physical rest is essential to recovery, as is a proper rehabilitative program in the more severe cases.

The Saint Peter’s concussion-management program is unlike any other in New Jersey because it is the only one that integrates a pediatric sports medicine physician, athletics trainer, a social worker, and physical therapists into a single diagnostic and curative team, Goodman explained.

This multi-disciplinary approach enables the Saint Peter’s concussion management program to not only identify and assess the severity of a concussion, but to build a treatment regimen that fits each athlete while working with local schools to ensure a student receives accommodations within the classroom.

Symptoms and recovery. The signs and symptoms of a concussion include: headache; dizziness; loss of consciousness; disorientation; nausea; vomiting; confusion; vision changes; balance problems, changes in personality; anterograde amnesia (difficulty remembering events that take place after the injury), and retrograde amnesia (difficulty remembers events that took place before the injury).

Initial treatment for a concussion is both cognitive and physical rest. Patients under cognitive rest cannot take part in demanding activities such as going to school, homework, reading, using a computer, watching television or playing video games, texting, or listening to loud music.

Eighty percent of high school athletes recover from a concussion within three weeks. However, 20 percent will take more than one month to recover. If an athlete has not recovered within a month and complains of headaches, eye strain, blurry vision, dizziness, or balance problems, a doctor will prescribe vestibular ocular rehabilitation with a physical therapist trained in concussion rehab. If the headaches are severe, a doctor will recommend that the patient see a neurologist for medication management.

When can an athlete return to play? An athlete should not return to play until they can perform a full workload at school without accommodations while being symptom free. Return to play should be gradual.

How to lower the risk of concussions:

• Encourage and teach good sportsmanship

• Instill in athletes the need to follow the rules

• Teach proper on-the-field techniques

• Ensure that athletes wear properly fitting equipment.

• The equipment should be checked and maintained regularly.

Saint Peter’s Sports Medicine Institute, 562 Easton Avenue, Somerset. 732-565-5455. See ad, page 13.

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