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U of M researcher leads project to understand concussions

According to the National Institutes of Health, a concussion is the most minor form of brain injury. However, we are learning that they can have long-lasting, debilitating and sometime deadly effects.

Baseball may be America's pastime, but football is its passion. The game that many kids like to play and many of us like to watch, in person and on television, has become more and more dangerous over the years and concussions have become all too common.

That is especially true at the professional level. In 2015, NFL players suffered a record 182 concussions. A 58% increase from 2014.

"A concussion is the result of either a direct or indirect blow to the head with some sort of force that is transmitted to the brain," said Dr. Steven Broglio with the University of Michigan Injury Center in Ann Arbor.

Broglio is the lead researcher for concussion at the university and he is co-leading a major project to better understand the injury and its long-term affects.

"The goal is to really understand how the injury manifests in various populations of athletes," said Broglio.

Christina Henriquez sees that manifestation on a regular basis. She works at Advance Physical Therapy Center in Grand Blanc where she guides clients through concussion management and recovery.

"You're allowing them to kind of manage the symptoms," said Henriquez. The therapy helps "get them back into the field a lot quicker and kind of decreases their symptoms as they have them," she added.

Those symptoms can include confusion, clumsiness, nausea, headache, blurred vision, memory loss and more.

Understanding concussion can be difficult because there is no scan doctors can use to get a diagnosis.

"If I took an MRI of your brain right now, and in three days from now you were out playing flag football and you had a concussion, your brain would look identical to the way it does now," said Broglio.

But, it likely would not be functioning the same. Through the use of technology, like the Biodex Balance System, therapists can determine the best way to help an athlete recover and get back on the field.

The Biodex system tests a person's balance while standing a flat surface and a padded surface. The test is conducted pre- and post- injury providing a basis by which the therapist can determine if a person has suffered a concussion.

Tests, like Biodex, are similar to protocols that the NFL puts its players through in cases of suspected concussion. Commissioner Roger Goodell addressed the concussion issue during his recent State of the League news conference at Super Bowl 50 in Santa Clara, California. He pledged that the league will do all it can to make the game safer.

"We continue to make rule changes in our game to make the game safer and protect our players from unnecessary injury," Goodell told reporters. "We've had 39 of those rules changes in the last ten years."

The NFL also is supporting research to develop better helmets.

"Helmets, up until a few years ago, were asked only to protect against skull fracture, not to protect against injury to the brain," said Dave Marver of VICIS, Inc. "We're trying to do both."

VICIS, a company based in Seattle, Washington, is developing a new helmet that uses soft, bumper-like material that can better absorb the energy of head impacts.

Meanwhile, on the University of Michigan campus in Ann Arbor, Dr. Steven Broglio is modifying current helmet technology to examine better ways of diagnosing concussion.

"Ideally, what we'd like to do with this system is to develop a threshold, a bio-mechanical threshold for injury," said Broglio. "So, you get hit in this location, with "x" amount of force, you have a concussion-- yes or no."

Broglio's project will involve nearly 25,000 student athletes on college campuses across the United States. It is work that he hopes will help, not only athletes, but the men and women who serve in the military as well.

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Additional Resource Links:

Visual Guide to Concussions and Brain Iinjuries

More on University of Michigan National Concussion Research Initiative

NCAA Concussion Guidlines

NCAA Football Practice Guidelines

VICIS Zero1 Football Helmet Video

More on the VICIS Zero1 Helmet

NFL 2015 Season Injury Data Report

Learn about the Heads Up program and find a youth football program, near you, that teaches Heads Up Football techniques.

Advance Physical Therapy Center in Grand Blanc, MI


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