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Pre-concussion screenings at Pines therapy center

8/23/12 | By Nathan Brunet, Staff Writer

BERLIN — Free balance screenings to test for concussion symptoms for children planning to participate in fall sports programs are available at Atlantic Physical Therapy off Cathell Road.

Since last week, about 100 young athletes from local schools have come in to the gym and physical therapy center to take part in the Biodex Concussion Management Program that can be used to test if an athlete is suffering a concussion.

“Researchers are finding people with concussions are having problems with their balance,” said Charles Curran, physical therapist at Atlantic Physical Therapy.

While standing on a machine created by medical equipment manufacturer Biodex, each participant goes through a series of four 30-second tests to determine his or her balance threshold.

"It's like a high-tech Wii," said Curran.

A screen displays a dart board-like interface that has a bull’s-eye in the center.

Once with eyes opened and once with eyes closed, the person stands on a solid surface that tilts based on how weight is being distributed. A dot represents where the weight is centered, and the goal is to stay as close to the center of the bull’s-eye as possible.

The process is then repeated on a foam surface that makes it harder to stay balanced.

While the initial test does not reveal concussion symptoms, subsequent tests can be performed after the athlete suffers a concussion and the statistics are put on a graph to compare to previous results. If the person shows a greater difficulty of balancing than before, it likely means he or she is still experiencing concussion symptoms.

"Before, we were looking at balance subjectively; now we can literally see it," said Curran.

According to Curran, Atlantic Physical Therapy is the only place on the Eastern Shore that utilizes this technology.

Concussions have come to the forefront of heath discussions in recent years after many retired National Football League players began to demand that the league recognize the post-career affects of repeated head injuries.

Former Baltimore Colts great John Mackie, who suffered from dementia related to multiple concussions during his playing days, was often cited as an example of what sometimes happens to retired veterans of the game. Ultimately, the players sued the league, contending that officials hid information from players that linked football-related head injuries to long-term effects.

"Years ago, if you got a concussion, you could just go right back in the game," Curran said.

Now, especially with children, experts emphasize that athletes take a long break from contact after having a concussion. Curran said it is easier to receive more concussions once the first one has occurred and that two concussions in a short period of time could result in long-term negative affects.

Some effects of receiving a concussion include a lack of cognitive ability and headaches, with the possibility of depression in the long-term.

Two former NFL players have died within the past two years from self-inflicted gunshot wounds to the chest, intentionally preserving the brain to be studied by neurologists. One of the men, former safety Dave Duerson, was confirmed to have suffered from a disease linked to concussions.

Each child is encouraged to take the initial test before any contact is made while participating in the sport, but the physical therapy center will accept free screenings throughout the year as long as a call is made ahead of time.

The balance device can be used to identify many other health issues, such as strokes, joint replacements and neurological disabilities.

Physical therapist David Bennett, who has been administering the children's concussion tests with Curran, said the device is meant to be used to help people of all ages.

"There is even a cool game for young children to play that helps them develop their balance," said Bennett.

To schedule an appointment for the Biodex Concussion Management Program, call Atlantic Physical Therapy at 410-208-3630.

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