Safety first for athletes at Durham, UOIT

They can happen in a blink of an eye, and there’s no telling how serious they will be.

Athletes giving it their all in the midst of an intense game suddenly have an unexpected collision that throws them down, smashing their head off the unforgiveable ground.

Concussions in sports are something that rules and regulations may never be able to prevent.

But the proper care for athletes with concussions has been taken very seriously as of late, especially at Durham College and UOIT.

The new approach proposed by Jessica Salt, athletic therapist for the UOIT Ridgebacks, involves an internal database that contains an injury record for every athlete at Durham College.

The new feature this protocol incorporates is a baseline test for all healthy hockey, soccer, lacrosse, volleyball, and basketball student athletes before the season, giving the athletic therapists more knowledge of whether an athlete is still dealing with a concussion.

“There’s so much research on concussions in the past five to ten years that really there’s been such a rapid change in the expectation of concussion management,” said Salt.

The new protocol treats every concussion the same, and the degree of the concussion is not revealed until after the recovery.

Athletes must repeat the baseline test and the results must match their initial score they posted before the season for the athlete to be cleared to play.

“We can never say how bad a concussion is until it’s better,” said Salt. “This is why concussions are so hard to manage.”

Salt’s baseline testing method ensures if the athlete is completely healthy before returning to action.

“We re-do the athlete’s baseline tests so we can compare their score to their post-injury scores and if they’re off, we know the athlete still is not normal,” said Salt.

For every athlete, they must follow a specific protocol to get clearance from the school doctors. Any clearance from outside doctors will not be accepted.

Durham and UOIT athletics are currently in their second year of using Salt’s protocol, and UOIT’s manager of intercollegiate athletics, Scott Barker, says it is important for the safety of both schools’ athletes.

“It’s critical to have a process in place where you can identify problems that happened in a student athlete’s past,” said Barker. “Having a process like this in place can only benefit the knowledge the doctors might need to the student in terms of recovery.”

Athletes will avoid time in the classroom, video games, movies, and electronic devices.

“The brain doesn’t know the difference between physical exercise and mental exercise,” said Salt.
Every athlete will automatically be declared ineligible for at least seven days until medical clearance comes from school doctors.

“If an athlete feels like 100 per cent the day after a concussion, they still wouldn’t be in a game until the following week,” said Salt.

Once the athletes are good enough to return to class, they must follow a return to sport protocol.

For the first couple of days, the athletes only do only light jogging for 20 minutes.

“Once the athletes have gone a couple days with a little bit of exercise, we have them do an exertion test,” said Salt.

The exertion test includes cognitive testing for the athlete, doing up-beat exercises like sprints, and then the therapists will ask questions about memory.

The last step of this process is for an athlete to fully participate in practice. Each athlete must complete a full practice before returning to action.

Ken Babcock, athletic director at Durham College, likes what he sees so far.

“We’re very excited about this, and very proud of our athletic therapy department,” said Babcock. “The more awareness makes it more of a topic to understand because concussions are a serious thing.”

Salt’s protocol has been picked up and shared by other schools. She feels she is doing her job well in notifying the athletes about how serious concussions are and showing them that impact testing doesn’t lie.

“I think we’ve done a pretty good job of educating the student athletes,” said Salt. “You can’t cheat on impact testing.”