Play it safe: Managing sports-related concussions

When 16-year-old Ben Chaffin caught the football in a pass drill during practice at The Bolles School last May, the sophomore wide receiver gripped the ball tightly in his gloves and hustled down the field in what is typically not a full-contact exercise. But moments later, the teenager was hit from the side, the force causing him to twist slightly in the air before hitting the ground. To his teammates and coaches the impact seemed to be minor, but when Ben didn’t get up, the mood on the field suddenly became more serious.

“I saw stars for sure, and I felt pain in my head, neck, jaw and arm,” said Ben. “When I was on the ground I realized I couldn’t move my right arm. It was pretty scary.”

Meghan Sink, MS, ATC, LAT, head athletic trainer for Bolles and a certified athletic trainer with Jacksonville Orthopaedic Institute, was standing about 10 feet away when she heard the impact, turned and saw him hit the ground. Her initial assessment led her to believe right away that he had a concussion.

“When I got to him, I could tell he just wasn’t right, and was very slow to answer my questions so I immediately was concerned he had sustained a concussion,” said Sink. “He also complained that he couldn’t feel his right arm, he had decreased sensation and grip strength in that arm, and neck pain, so I called 911.”

Paramedics with Jacksonville Fire and Rescue arrived on the scene and secured Ben on a spineboard with his helmet still on, facemask removed. Keeping his head and neck stabilized was a priority as they transported him to Wolfson Children’s Hospital’s Emergency Center in Jacksonville, and into the care of pediatric emergency medicine physician Shareen Ismail, MD.

Thankfully, the diagnosis was a minor brachial plexus injury, otherwise known as a “stinger,” a common injury to the nerves to the upper arm that heals on its own. Dr. Ismail then discharged Ben but referred him to concussion management specialist Joe Czerkawski, MD, a board-certified sports and internal medicine physician with Baptist Primary Care, who saw Ben the next day.

Dr. Czerkawski looked for signs of post-concussion syndrome in Ben including headache, fogginess and dizziness, all of which Ben had. He told Ben to stay home for the next several days for “brain rest,” and contacted Sink and asked her to administer a computer-based neurocognitive assessment once Ben’s symptoms were gone to assess his ability to ease back into sports.

According to the Jacksonville Sports Medicine Program (JSMP), more than 140,000 high school athletes in the U.S. suffer concussions each year. Because of these statistics, the state of Florida passed the Youth Concussion Law in 2012, which requires an athlete who has received a concussion to obtain written medical clearance from a physician before being allowed to return to both practice and play.

While sitting on the bench for several weeks is not particularly appealing to Ben, he understands the importance of taking the time to adequately heal.

“I know this recovery time is important to my well-being,” said Ben. “I don’t want to risk losing the chance to play football again but more importantly, I don’t want to take a chance at hurting myself permanently. I’m playing it safe.”


You can get more information about neurocognitive testing and where it’s available from your school’s athletic trainer or the JSMP by calling 904-202-4332. To learn more, join Michael Yorio, MD, from Jacksonville Orthopaedic Institute at free talks at the Y Healthy Living Centers. March 2 in Ponte Vedra. March 3 in Mandarin.

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