Rutgers study could improve concussion treatment for NJ athletes
Football linemen crunching into each other, helmet-to-helmet. A batter beaned in a baseball game. A boxer's bloodied face taking punch after punch. Sometimes, the signs of head trauma are obvious.
But research presented at the recent annual meeting of the American Physiological Society, taking a look at physical impacts felt by players in recreational rugby matches, found some similarities between those who had suffered known head injuries, and those who hadn't.
The results appeared to poke some holes in the effectiveness of the Sport Concussion Assessment Tool, a questionnaire used along with other methods to diagnose concussions during sporting events, according to Stephanie Iring, a Rutgers University PhD candidate and the study's first author.
Out of 209 players whose SCAT scores were studied, the 80 who had sustained a blow to the head reported 26 symptoms on average, while the 129 who exerted themselves but had no head trauma reported an average of nine symptoms.
Despite the disparity in quantity of symptoms, Iring said there was a bit of crossover between the two groups.
"We wanted to see if these exercised players also reported some of those symptoms, and we actually did see that a lot of the controls reported a lot of the symptoms that were also reported by the players that had experienced a head injury," she said.
Fatigue and neck pain were two of the symptoms most commonly shared by the two groups, whereas the players confirmed to have suffered head injuries frequently additionally complained of headaches, cognitive-sensory effects, emotional-affective symptoms, hypersensitivity, or just "not feeling right," according to the study.
Specifically with regard to fatigue, Iring said while that could simply be a byproduct of having completed an intense match, it could also signal undetected head trauma.
"Our findings definitely highlight the importance of considering the effects of exercise and fatigue when we're assessing concussions on the field," she said.
The key, Iring said, is to get a player off the field and get them diagnosed and treated as soon as possible if there is any doubt as to their condition.
"You don't want these athletes to continue to play, and even experience another head injury," she said. "There's a lot of studies that do show that if they have experienced a head injury, they're likely to be more liable to experience another one while they're still playing the game."
Iring said future research will aim to further delineate symptoms of regular exercise exertion from those directly connected to head injuries, in order to add that data into sideline assessments.
"There's a lot of underreporting that's going on right now on these players, so this is important to understand which symptoms, but also partner them with markers of concussion that are able to be better diagnosed on the sideline initially," Iring said.