WPHS Taking a Hard Look at Head Injuries

New technology that monitors athletes’ hits to the head may add to concussion prevention efforts.

Head impact sensors, which are designed to attach to athletes’ helmets, feature lights blinking from green to yellow or red depending on how hard a player hits his head. Company disclaimers, however, note that such technology does not diagnose concussions.

Although she agrees that utilizing staff remains vital to monitoring athletes’ potential for concussions, Lisa Berner, an athletic trainer at Wheeling Park High School, still noted that the technology’s potential is “amazing.”

“It provides another objective sign that a child needs assessed,” Berner said.

The school does not currently use such sensors. According to Berner, Wheeling Park High School follows specific guidelines published by the West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission for dealing with concussions.

“There are policies in place to assess injuries immediately and test if a child needs referred to a physician,” Berner said. “At Park, we’re lucky to have two athletic trainers on staff.”

Adding that West Virginia requires an athletic trainer, EMT or physician be present at football games and practices, Berner said it is important for trainers to know the players.

“I search for triggers like headaches and loss of consciousness,” Berner said. “I also go onto the field to look into the faces of each kid. It’s about observing and being aware of the possibilities.”

Berner said that signs such as players straining to focus their eyes or blinking a lot may suggest a need for them to be pulled for testing. Noting that trainers can do a rough estimate of the injury, Berner emphasized a reliance on the Sport Concussion Assessment Tool 2, a symptom evaluation form.

SCAT2 lists concussion symptoms that those conducting the evaluation ask injured athletes if they have. Symptoms such as neck pain, dizziness and nausea are included on the form.

Wheeling Park High School also promotes conducting impact testing. Berner said that Derrick Eddy, a sports medicine doctor at Wheeling Hospital, conducts the computerized impact tests that process speed, reaction time and memory. Once a baseline for such traits is established for individual players at the beginning of the year, doctors can conduct the test again after a player is injured to compare numbers.

“Impact testing provides objective data on how much longer it took memorize information,” Berner said.

According to Berner, if players still do not pass the impact tests a week after the injury, then “they are not ready to go back to playing.” Those who do return, however, must follow a slow process during which they are assessed each step of the way.