Sharing insight on sports-related concussions

An interview with Anthony (Tony) Surace, Athletic Trainer for Niagara Falls High School team sports

NEWS STAFF REPORTER

Published:February 6, 2011, 12:00 AM  BUFFALO NEWS

WHEATFIELD—While ice-skating not long ago, a young woman slipped and fell, banging her head on the ice. Although she lost consciousness for a few moments in a backyard rink, she felt she could continue skating, unaware that she had a concussion and wasn’t good to go.

Later, while relaxing with friends, the skater suddenly went into convulsions and had to have brain surgery.

She suffered “a hemorraghic bleed, which could have a delayed response, and then require emergency surgery,” said Anthony Surace, 40, Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center’s director of sports medicine at its University Sports Medicine of Niagara Concussion Clinic.

Athletes can be vulnerable to those sometimes misleading, and possibly deadly, concussions.

Surace also has been the athletic trainer at Niagara Falls High School, through the Medical Center, for the last 14 years and Summit Rehab manager at the hospital’s Summit Healthplex in Wheatfield.

There, the concussion clinic is staffed with certified athletic trainers and physical therapists, along with Dr. Scott Darling, physician for the concussion clinic.

Concussion patients, after being evaluated at the clinic, might be advised to take a Tylenol as needed for headache. They’re asked to avoid computers, reading and bright lights—anything that may cause eye strain. And they must have follow-up visits for concussion treatment. No exercise until cleared to do so from their doctor.

They’re asked to bring sneakers and workout wear to the clinic, as they may be required to exercise at a certain heart rate. And they’re requested to closely monitor their signs and symptoms during recovery, and honestly report those changes to clinic staff. Their clinic is linked to the University at Buffalo’s concussion clinic with Dr. John Leddy.

More than a million Americans suffer a traumatic brain injury each year.

Concussions are misunderstood at times, Surace said, “and that makes it difficult to manage, with competitive athletes, parents and coaches. What happens with concussions is that athletes will start to feel better, become asymptomatic and believe, as soon as that happens, they should be cleared to return to play. But in reality, an athlete with a concussion must have a rest period after becoming asymptomatic and return slowly to activity with a return-to-play protocol, with an exercise-progression.”

It’s now mandatory for all public high schools to have a concussion management team, and policy, approved by school boards, said Surace.

How long have you been in this field?

I’ve been in the sports medicine/ athletic training field for 15 years, and have loved the opportunity to work with some great local high school athletes and some great kids in Western New York, specifically, Niagara Falls High School.

What is a concussion?

Immediate and temporary alteration of mental functioning due to trauma. And the trauma may not be to the head. A concussion is a serious injury not to be taken lightly.

Do helmets prevent concussion?

Helmets help reduce the severity of a concussion, with an inner shock absorption system, but do not prevent concussions from happening.

How about mouth guards?

If worn properly, they’re excellent for the prevention of dental injuries. There’s no significant scientific evidence that mouth guards prevent an athlete from sustaining a concussion.

Is there medicine to speed concussion recovery?

There’s no pharmacological therapy that’ll speed up the recovery of symptoms from a concussion.

What does help?

Time and rest are the main things that will help in recovery.

Can you diagnose a concussion with a CT scan or MRI?

CT scan or MRI are excellent tools to diagnose possible brain-bleed injuries but aren’t useful in diagnosing concussions.

Can athletes who still have headaches return to playing sports?

A person should never return to their sport when symptomatic. They should follow a guided exercise progression for seven days after becoming symptom-free before returning to full participation.

Even if a player feels OK?

Concussion patients must wait seven to 10 days after they become symptom-free before returning to full participation. There are biochemical changes occurring in the brain that must return to baseline before returning to full participation.

What about school, or work, with concussion symptoms?

We may ask patients to refrain from attending school or work initially — seven days — based on severity, for the brain to rest. But after that, it’s fine to attend school or work. Teachers — and/or your boss — should be notified, though, about symptoms from a concussion, that they’re under the care of a physician.

But don’t kids bounce back quicker from concussions than adults?

Actually, young people may take longer. It’s not like a fracture, it’s not black and white. Concussions can be tricky and scary. We see kids ages 10, 11, 12, who may take four to six weeks to recover rather than one to two.

Is there any similarity with student athletes to the “pro” players?

The NFL’s done a good job promoting concussion care that’s now being used in high school sports. We’re using the same protocol that’s research-backed.

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