Arguably today’s youth sports and activities are better equipped with gear and knowledge to protect kids from getting concussions, yet studies show they are on the rise. And while safeguards continue to be put in place to prevent concussions, little has been done to change the treatment of care for a concussion when one does happen. Until now.
Researchers at Akron Children’s Hospital think there might be a better way to treat concussions and it’s with something they’ve been using for years to help with other injuries – ice.
“Much of our initial treatment at sporting events is to ice the injured part of the body – a knee or ankle – to reduce the inflammation,” said Joseph Congeni, M.D., director of the Sports Medicine Center at Akron Children’s. “But nobody has looked at trying that with concussions. Our study is looking at whether cooling the brain after injury is more effective than the current standard of care which is brain rest.”
Although concussions can occur from a fall or accident, an estimated 329,290 children (age 19 or younger) were treated in U.S. emergency departments for sports and recreation-related injuries that included a diagnosis of concussion or TBI (traumatic brain injury).
Of these diagnoses, brain rest is the first – and often only – course of treatment kids receive. Brain rest means refraining from strenuous physical and mental tasks that could make symptoms worse. While this does give the brain time to heal, it doesn’t treat the swelling or inflammation that can occur after a concussion.
“We know from what we see on athletic fields and feedback we receive from parents and kids that it (rest) is not enough,” said Dr. Congeni. “Through research we hope to prove there is more we can do and change the standard of care for concussions.”
The research study is a collaborative effort between TecTraum, the Cleveland-based Pro-2-Cool™ System device manufacturer and Akron Children’s Hospital. The goal is to determine if icing the brain shortens the course of concussion and, in doing so, reduces the risk of post-concussion syndrome such as symptoms of chronic headache, anxiety, depression, light-headed or dizziness and blurry vision.
Not your father’s research
Just like cars, research has come a long way over the years. Research is no longer just done in labs with beakers and microscopes; today’s research is done in-person and in the field to capture real-life understandings. Such is the case with the hospital’s concussion study.
“Some of today’s most effective research is done clinically because it allows us to engage in conversations and get immediate feedback that helps us add meaning to our results at the human level,” added Dr. Congeni.
The concussion study places patients, ages 12-19, in 2 test sets – one uses the standard treatment of care, rest, and the other group receives two treatments with the yet-to-be FDA-approved Pro-2-Cool™ System. The groups are evaluated after initial head impact and receive one follow-up visit within 72-hours after either treatment is given.
For the group receiving standard concussion treatment, rest is the only option. For the other group, the Pro-2-Cool™ ‘cool cap’ or wrap is placed around a patient’s forehead and neck to lower blood temperature slowly before it enters the brain. A continuous flow of cooled water is pumped through the cap to give the brain and body time to adapt to the trauma, reducing inflammation and promoting quicker healing.
For Kelly Bass of Akron, the study came at a perfect time for her son.
“It was a Friday night football game when Mikal took a hard hit…it was a severe concussion. We knew Dr. Congeni because he’s the team’s physician…he wanted Mikal to get checked out right away to make sure there was no bleeding,” said Kelly.
“While we were at the hospital, we learned Mikal could qualify for a concussion study so we decided to try it… As long as it didn’t involve a needle, Mikal was all about it.”
Mikal received 2 treatments with the Pro-2-Cool™ cool cap and both delivered good results.
“Everything about the study was explained to us and they monitored him the whole time he had the treatments, about every 15 minutes, so we felt very comfortable with it,” said Kelly. “After his second treatment, he didn’t need any more medicine for his headaches. He’s had a concussion in the past. He’s done rest and light therapy so I could tell he definitely recovered better with this treatment.”
Initially the concussion study was done in conjunction with local schools, but now it’s branching out to the broader community. Researchers are signing kids up for the clinical trial through Akron Children’s Emergency, Urgent Care, sports medicine and pediatric offices.
“The study is the largest research study to-date at Akron Children’s and it’s collaboration in the truest sense,” said Dr. Congeni. “It connects us to our community by talking with providers, trainers, parents, sons and daughters. It reaffirms our commitment to the community. We’re here. We’re listening. And we’re investing in new and better ways to treat conditions our kids are facing in the hopes we can improve outcomes.”
Parents like Kelly hope the study will help kids and raise more awareness about the ramifications a concussion can have on kids since it’s not always visible.
“I really don’t think people realize the long-term damage a concussion can have on a kid, not just an NFL player,” said Kelly. “If it doesn’t have a cast on it, people think it’s not broken, but they don’t realize that damage is happening and it will surface later in life with aggressive behavior or headaches. It’s proven…I hope this study changes all of that (negative outcomes) for our kids.”
For Kelly’s son, Mikal, the research was not only timely, it was personal.
“We know Dr. Congeni and sometimes he’s the only one who can get Mikal to understand he’s not allowed to play when he’s injured,” said Kelly. “Dr. Congeni is really experienced dealing with kids who are passionate about sports. He always says he doesn’t work for Hoban (High School) or the hospital, he works for the kids and we believe it.”
To learn more about the Pro-2-Cool™ concussion study or to see if your child is eligible, visit www.akronchildrens.org/pro2cool or contact Alex Lesak, MPH, clinical research program coordinator at Akron Children’s, at 330-543-5727.