Concussion prevention study seeks foothold in Scarborough
SCARBOROUGH — Chiropractor Patricia Wentworth is ready to make concussion prevention the core of her work with Maine high school student athletes.
One thing she needs is the athletes to be part of a Purdue University study seeking to establish that strengthened neck and core shoulder and back muscles are a key to preventing the head injuries.
"I would love the opportunity to test 25 kids in the area who have had concussions and see where they are,” Wentworth said.
A former athletic trainer at schools in Virginia and Washington, D.C., Wentworth is now looking to expand her practice in Eliot to the Portland area, and has already set up a small practice at the Maine Hits baseball center on Lincoln Avenue in Scarborough.
Her work has also attracted the notice of South Portland athletic trainer John Ryan, who has almost 25 years experience at South Portland and Bangor high schools.
“I always knew core and neck strength were important if you wanted to be a successful athlete and wanted to reduce other types of injuries," Ryan said.
Ryan said it is too expensive to send athletes to Wentworth's Sports, Spine and Rehab in Eliot, and space issues at Maine Hits have prevented Wentworth from moving her biggest testing and strength machines to Scarborough.
But she sees potential in the area. “I'd love to make this a little concussion prevention center,” she said.
Maine Hits owner Bob Williamson said he would welcome the equipment, in addition to training baseball and softball players year round.
"We train baseball and softball players from real young up to professionals who train in the off-season here," Williamson said. "Having this type of tool is huge."
The 12-week strengthening program with two weekly sessions is arduous, but can increase strength by 100 percent, Wentworth said.
"It is not for the faint of heart," she said.
Recognition of health hazards from concussions and other head injuries has grown steadily enough for the Legislature to enact LD 1873, a law requiring public school districts to develop management policies, keep injured athletes out of action until they are medically cleared, and to train coaches, athletic directors and other staff in how to recognize symptoms of head injuries.
"It has been absolutely more amazing over the last four or five years as to how aware we are as professionals,” Ryan said as the South Portland fall athletic season was concluding.
In that season, Ryan said 11 athletes had concussions, and eight were girls. Three came from football, four from girls soccer (including one athlete injured in a car accident), two from cheering, and one from volleyball.
Last year, about 35 concussions were reported, and Ryan said more than half of the injured were girls.
Armed with studies, including a graduate thesis by Reed Omdal of Washington State University, Wentworth believes weakened neck and shoulder muscles are at least a contributing factor to concussions.
"The dynamic movements involved with sport participation require the use of neck musculature for stabilization of the head, and the strength characteristics may prove to be very influential on an individual's susceptibility to traumatic brain injury," Omdal concluded after testing youth soccer players in Washington State.
Core strength is critical, but Wentworth said her work and research by Massachusetts neurosurgeon Dr. Robert Cantu, author of "Concussions and Our Kids," establish concussions do not always occur from impacts and can be detected by other means.
Blood tests can detect the presence of a protein found in the brain that slips into the bloodstream after a traumatic head injury, according to doctors at the Cleveland Clinic.
Parental vigilance may be most important, especially if an athlete has not suffered a hit and is still showing signs of ill health.
“You can't ignore that, it really relies on the parent coming forth,” Wentworth said.
She said she has been contacting coaches and trainers in Maine for about three years, with little success, but has started working with coaches at York High School and Traip Academy near the New Hampshire border.
Next spring, Wentworth will get an opportunity to present her ideas and programs to the Maine Athletic Trainers Association.
“I love what I do," she said. "I like the science behind it."