The number of emergency department visits for sport-related brain injuries in two Canadian provinces — Ontario and Alberta — increased by 28 per cent over the last five years, according to the Canadian Institute for Health Information. The increase was highest in young athletes ages 0 to 9, and the numbers for hockey were almost double those for each of cycling, football and rugby, and skiing and snowboarding.
With hockey season in full swing, Nanaimo-based physiotherapist and concussion educator Natasha Wilch wants young athletes to champion brain health by being aware of the most advanced ways to detect and treat head injuries.
“In the past players were told to ‘shake it off’ or go see their general practitioner,” said Wilch, who owns Symphony Rehabilitation in Nanaimo. “But if a concussion is not handled properly it can lead to serious problems, such as subsequent musculoskeletal injury.”
Early detection is key, she added. If a concussion isn’t detected early, and the athlete doesn’t rest and allow for gradual reintroduction to sport, they will likely be symptomatic for longer.
“Prompt reporting has been shown to reduce concussion symptoms by two days and decrease the likelihood of missing more than two weeks of sport participation by 39 per cent,” she said.
Five out of 10 concussions currently go unreported and undetected, but Wilch said she hopes advances in monitoring of brain function will soon improve that statistic.
For example, she said Canadian company Highmark Interactive has developed and designed the EQ Brain Tracking app for athletes ages 8 and up. The app is the world’s first U.S. Food and Drug Administration-cleared, gamified, mobile neurological assessment tool.
Symphony Rehabilitation introduced the app to Nanaimo over the summer as part of their new Neuroperformance Brain Health Program.
“The whole program sets a new standard for concussion care and brain health,” Wilch said.
It starts with an initial brain health assessment to provide a “baseline” picture of your healthy brain function.
“Think of this as your ‘preseason physical,” Wilch said, adding that the assessment includes functional, vision and cognitive exams.
Following the assessment, the team at Symphony Rehabilitation provides access to the EQ Brain Tracking app, which stores the baseline assessment data and cues the user to do gamified check-ins that the team monitors weekly, comparing the results to the user’s neurological norm.
“When most people think of concussion symptoms they think of nausea, vomiting, dizziness and headaches,” Wilch said. “But the Neuroperformance Brain Health Program and EQ Health app allow us to do real-time monitoring of not only your symptoms, but your function, to identify changes that you may not have picked up on.”
If results show that the user may have had a concussion, the team at Symphony Rehabilitation will alert them within less than 48 hours and expedite access to the clinic if required.
To learn more, contact Symphony Rehabilitation by email at www.symphony-rehab.com/contact-us or call 250-741-0141.