Dr. Jennifer Johnson, a local sports medicine physician and graduate of Sweetwater High School, along with Texas Sport and Spine in Abilene are the first to provide free computerized concussion testing to Sweetwater High School athletes and students at risk for concussion. ImPACT (Immediate Post-Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing) is a computerized concussion evaluation system currently being used by the NFL, NHL, NBA, MLB, IRL and USA Olympic teams in addition to many area universities, and it will now be made available to Sweetwater High School. ImPACT has been shown in multiple scientific studies to be a useful tool in measuring the severity and effects of concussion and determining when it is safe for concussed athletes or individuals to return to sports or activity.
With ImPACT, the athlete takes a pre-season computerized test that measures brain processing function, including:reaction time, verbal memory, visual memory, accuracy, and visual motor skills. The test takes approximately 20 minutes and is given in a video game type format incorporating words, shapes, colors, and numbers. After the athlete takes the pre-season baseline test, his or her scores are saved within the program. Then, should the athlete ever experience a concussion, he or she will take the ImPACT test in the days following the concussion. Having pre-concussive scores and post-concussive scores available on an individual athlete allows for the direct comparison of pre-injury and post-injury brain function; it gives physicians and athletic trainers crucial information and enables precise monitoring of the injury, its severity, and its effects. Most importantly, the test will help the treating physician determine when the athlete’s brain function has returned to baseline and therefore, when it is safe for the athlete to begin the progression back to sports and activities.
Dr. Johnson explains that, without a program like ImPACT, a physician’s decision on when an athlete is safe to return to play after concussion must depend heavily on the athlete’s self-reporting of symptoms which is dangerous for several reasons. Firstly, athletes often feel pressure to minimize symptoms in an effort to return to the game sooner. Secondly, even concussed athletes who are completely forthcoming about their symptoms and claim to be symptom-free might still not be back to baseline in terms of brain function; a recent study of NCAA D1 college football players showed that even at the point when athletes claim to be symptom-free from concussion, 38% of them still demonstrate cognitive impairment on ImPACT testing. Science has proven that during concussion recovery, symptoms resolve before brain function completely normalizes. Research has demonstrated that the effects of repeated concussions are cumulative, and a concussed athlete who returns to play before the brain has had time to completely recover is at risk for more serious injury. Computerized, scored concussion testing is imperative for removing the subjectivity from concussion management. “ ImPACT offers an objective way to ensure that a post-concussive athlete is ready to return to play safely,” says Dr. Johnson.
“In the sports medicine world, the topic of sport related concussion has become increasingly important in the past few years,” says Johnson. “Studies estimate that approximately 136,000 concussions are sustained yearly among high school athletes in the U.S. At least one in ten high school athletes in contact sports will sustain a concussion during their season,” and the problem certainly extends beyond football. Dr. Johnson has treated concussed athletes involved in: football, cheerleading, soccer, hockey, basketball, baseball, gymnastics, and volleyball. The cognitive effect of concussion and time to recovery varies in each athlete, which is why it is so important to have a baseline score for each individual. If an athlete is returned to play before he or she has fully recovered from a concussion, the risk is that the athlete might sustain another blow to the head causing “second impact syndrome,” which can result in serious brain damage and in the most severe cases, death. ImPACT testing helps the clinician, the athlete, and the athlete’s parents feel confident that the athlete is getting back on the field “100% and safe and sound,” states Drew Brees, quarterback for the New Orleans Saints and proponent of ImPACT testing.
Dr. Johnson reports that almost 50% of high schools in the U.S. are currently using ImPACT or a similar computerized concussion evaluation system. With the increased attention being paid to high profile athletes and the effects suffered from multiple concussions, Johnson believes that the topic of concussion must be seriously addressed in the Big Country. She, along with Texas Sport and Spine, will be offering one year of free baseline and post-concussive testing for Sweetwater High, Abilene High, Cooper High, and Wylie High.
Dr. Johnson is currently conducting ImPACT testing at Texas Sport and Spine in the new D1 Sports Training Facility in Abilene and welcomes all athletes or students at risk for concussion to her office for a baseline test or post-concussion evaluation. ImPACT testing may be used for ages 10 years old and up. Cost is $40 per baseline test for athletes and students who do not attend SHS, AHS, CHS, or WHS. Call 325.698.4545 to schedule or email IMPACTabilene@gmail.com  for questions.