Test aims to ‘ImPACT’ local student athletes

pseligson@newsobserver.comAugust 4, 2013 

Student athletes in Johnston County are taking a test normally reserved for college and professional players.

Last week, student athletes at Princeton Middle and Princeton High schools took the ImPACT test, which helps medical providers diagnose concussions. The test, already used in professional sports, can determine if a person still has a concussion – even when obvious symptoms are gone.

“The overall management in concussions, in general, is lacking a little bit,” said Daniel Skulavik, an orthopaedic specialist at Advanced Physical Therapy of Smithfield, which offered the testing at the schools. “We thought that having something like this would not just help with the student, but also help everyone else manage it better – including the physicians.”

In the test, the Princeton student athletes sat at a computer and answered a series of questions to assess memory, reaction time and other skills. In one part of the test, shapes of different colors appeared on the screen. Then, as fast as possible, the student athletes had to click letters on their keyboard corresponding to the shapes. They also had to recall words and patterns, often with other activities in between. The test lasts about 30 minutes.

Athletes take the test before a sports season begins to create a baseline measurement. During the season, if the athlete suffers a head injury, he or she takes the test again. Doctors compare the athlete’s results with the baseline to see if the athlete has a concussion and to also determine if the concussion has fully healed.

The test normally costs $90-100 per student, Skulavik said, but Advanced Physical Therapy offered it free so student athletes could receive better care in the event of concussions. The Smithfield company tests not just football players, but all student athletes. Skulavik said most sports run the risk of concussions, especially soccer and cheerleading.

Marty Gurganus, Princeton’s athletic director, said he was thankful that Advanced Physical Therapy approached the school.

“I was sold right away,” he said. “It gives us an opportunity to care for our student athletes in a greater way.”

Skulavik said Advanced Physical Therapy offered the test to five high schools in the county. Princeton and Smithfield-Selma high schools said yes, with a total of 400 students taking part. Smithfield-Selma student athletes took the test on Monday.

Skulavik said people are often surprised by the long-lasting effects of concussions. A concussion can cause problems ranging from the inability to concentrate to loss of balance. These effects can last weeks and sometimes months after the injury.

Because concussions aren’t always diagnosed, an athlete could return to the field and suffer an additional head injury, which could cause serious brain injury, Skulavik. He added that only about half of concussions occur during games; the other half happen during practice.

Derrick Minor, Princeton High’s football coach, said player safety is above everything else, and he, too, was thankful for the free testing. Minor said he wishes everyone could play football and not have to be taken off the field for an injury.

“(But) it’s more important they become healthy and productive adults when they’re done playing,” he said.

After taking the test, Jared Pearce, a rising junior on Princeton’s football team, said, “I think that every school should do it.”

Pearce said that though the test was hard, it wasn’t that bad.

“They made the test seem way worse than it was,” he said.

The test results last for one year, and student athletes need to retake the test before the start of each season, Skulavik said. Advanced Physical Therapy plans to offer the test again next year and hopes to have more schools take part.

Seligson: 919-836-5768

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