Ways to Reduce Concussion Risk

Determining ways to reduce concussions is part of the work being done by the Virginia Concussion Initiative, a collective of medical experts, health care providers, educators, and other stakeholders.

Explains Dr. Andrew Lincoln, Director, Orthopedics and Sports Medicine Research, and a member of the Initiative, when focusing on risk reduction, three different phases of the concussion “event” are studied: intervention prior to the injury … or trying to minimize the amount of kinetic energy transfer at the time of the impact; and the secondary and tertiary phases, or what happens following the event. An example of intervention after the fact might be the social environment intervention consisting of the state law, passed several years ago, preventing return to play within at least 24 hours of suffering a concussion.

What about intervention prior to injury? Is there a way to make individuals stronger and more resilient to protect themselves from concussion?

Dr. Lincoln offers these findings: in high school basketball, where it’s the same game, same rules for either gender, the data shows that female teens are at twice the risk for a concussion as male teens playing the same sport. He notes that skeletal and strength differences, primarily core and neck, is quite different between the two sexes. Preliminary data suggests that working with young female athletes to improve their neck strength and their core strength might protect them from concussion.

“That’s an example of how we might modify the host or the athlete themselves in terms of the agent or the kinetic energy. Another example might be modifying road design to bring speeds down, thereby reducing kinetic energy in the event of a crash. Or, can we build up an outfield wall with more padding so that when an outfielder bangs into it trying to catch a ball, there will not be such a high kinetic energy transfer? These are just a few different approaches to some risk reduction strategies that are being studied,” says Dr. Lincoln.

It is a misperception that helmets prevent concussions, but they do protect your head from more serious injury. “Helmets prevent skull fractures and intracranial bleeding, so they are important, but we’ve not found a helmet even with all the different helmets out there that will truly prevent a concussion,” notes Dr. Joel Brenner, another member of the Virginia Concussion Initiative.

For more information on traumatic brain injuries, including concussions, contact the Virginia Department of Health at https://www.vdh.virginia.gov/injury-and-violence-prevention/ or the Virginia Concussion Initiative at concussion.gmu.edu.