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Experts Discuss Concussion Problem During Recent Seminar

It seems like just about everyone is weighing in on concussions these days, particularly those injuries that result from participation in sports. Members of the medical community, sports representatives, parents, politicians, researchers and others are bringing the problem of concussions among athletes of all ages to the forefront of discussion and forcing the issue to finally be addressed.

Penn State Health St. Joseph is leading the way in raising awareness about concussions among athletes to the attention of the Greater Reading community, and is working to establish a center where those suffering from concussions can be assessed and treated.

St. Joseph’s concussion program, which will be in place prior to the start of the 2016-17 scholastic sports season, is modeled after one in place at Penn State Hershey Medical Center.

The center, according to Monica Rush, Director of Rehab Services, will be a resource for the area.

“Clearly, there is a need in our community,” Rush said. “There are some resources available, but we’re trying to pull them all together.”

A recent seminar, co-sponsored by St. Joseph and the Wyomissing Optometric Center and held at the Berks Campus of Penn State University, highlighted the importance of concussion awareness as it pertains to school athletic trainers, school nurses and other health professionals.

It’s thought that sports-related concussions account for 80 percent of all annual traumatic brain injuries.

Dr. Damion Martins, a physician with the National Football League’s New York Jets delivered the keynote speech, “Concussion ‘Pearls’: Assess, Predict, Return to Play.”

Dr. Jeffrey Zlotnick, Dr. Heidi Sensenig, Dr. Kenneth Hill, Dr. Damion Martins
Dr. Jeffrey Zlotnick, Dr. Heidi Sensenig, Dr. Kenneth Hill, Dr. Damion Martins

He praised St. Joseph for offering the seminar and attendees for taking their time to participate.

“You have a great opportunity today to learn about this topic,” Martins told the audience. “You will walk out of this event today knowing more than 95 percent of concussion experts.”

There are many issues associated with concussions, Martins said, including a tendency among young athletes to under report symptoms, difficulty in diagnosing the injury and determining when it’s safe for the athlete to return to the sport.

While there are various assessments in place to test athletes for symptoms of concussion, they are not reliable in every case and their effectiveness can vary between individuals.

“You have to take these symptom scores with a grain of salt,” Martins said.

Even after a concussion has been diagnosed, it is difficult to predict the outcome.

While symptoms normally abate in a relatively short time, some concussions result in post-concussion syndrome, a condition in which symptoms last for three months or longer.

Patients who experience that syndrome are at risk for depression, cognitive impairment, behavioral changes, migraines, vision dysfunction and other problems.

Downtown Reading Campus physician Dr. Jeffrey Zlotnick also spoke at the seminar, addressing “Concussion 2016: How did we get here and where are we going?”

In his talk, Zlotnick pointed out that, while football produces the most concussions among high school and college-aged athletes, other sports and activities also put young people at risk.

Girls who play soccer are prone to concussions, as are cheerleaders and participants in other sports.
More than 50 percent of concussions may go unreported, Zlotnick said.

Other speakers were Dr. Kenneth L. Hill, Jr., a Penn State Health St. Joseph neurosurgery specialist who addressed “When is it More than a Concussion?” and Heidi L. Sensenig, an optometrist with Wyomissing Optometric Center, who spoke on “Post-Concussion Visual Dysfunction: What Can We Do?”

Jeffrey Zlotnick, MD is a Family Practice and Sports Medicine physician at Penn State Health St. Joseph. He can be reached at 610-378-2060.

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