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New concussion research is creating jobs

Millions of dollars have poured into this sector over the past few years.

New concussion research is creating jobs

We’ve all seen it happen: A big hit in the field of play, an athlete lying on the ground, a frantic wave to the sidelines. Once written off as “getting your bell rung,” concussions are now being recognized as brain traumas that may lead to consequences much more serious than momentary confusion.

This head issue has been making headlines the last few years as a result of questions about the long-term effects of getting hurt playing America’s pastime: football. And NFL senior vice president for health and safety Jeff Miller acknowledged a link between chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a progressive degenerative disease, and football, in testimony to a Congressional committee in March.

Greater attention to the consequences of traumatic brain injuries (TBI) like concussions—not only in pro football but also in other amateur impact sports such as hockey and soccer—is translating to more funding for research. And more funding will likely mean more jobs for medical and academic concussion specialists.

Why the sector is growing

Concussions are caused by a blow to the head or upper body so forceful that the brain moves rapidly back and forth, or twists or stretches within the skull, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention definition. We know that a concussion can lead to a wide range of symptoms depending on the severity, including memory loss, change in personality, depression, dizziness, persistent headaches and fatigue. But when it comes to truly understanding what happens over time after such a trauma, there is still much research to be done.

Now for the first time ever, there is true funding behind the cause. Much of the money has come from the NFL itself, which has poured $100 million into brain research The National Institutes of Health National Institutes of Health and the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke awarded $16 million in grant money to research to help find evidence of CTE in a living person. Currently, CTE can only be detected in the brain of someone who has died.

And as physicians get a better understanding of the potential long-term consequences of repetitive head trauma, awareness among the general population is also growing, says Joseph Rempson, co-director of the Concussion Center at Overlook Medical Center in Summit, New Jersey, which should lead to further funding.

Meanwhile, in President Obama’s proposed 2017 budget, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention requested $5 million to establish a National Concussion Surveillance System to better track and learn about the rate and causes of concussions in the United States. According to the CDC, the rate of emergency department visits for sports and recreation injuries that included concussion or traumatic brain injury rose 57% among people age 19 and younger from 2001 to 2009, although that number may be affected by improved reporting.

Attention on the concussion has trickled down from professional and amateur sports to other areas where traumatic brain injury happens as well, says P. David Adelson, an expert in pediatric traumatic brain injury in acute care management as well as in recovery and neural injury plasticity at Phoenix Children's Hospital. Those include injuries from car accidents, recreational activities and domestic violence, among others.

Who helps treat concussions

Initial treatment for a concussion is often physical and cognitive rest, Rempson says. Once physical discomfort has been managed, treatment may include vestibular rehabilitation, which deals with inner ear and balance; visual retraining, and low-level exercise.

Because the health impact is so far-reaching, managing this treatment can be a team effort, involving coordination among physicians, nurses and nurse practitioners, athletic trainers, neuro-rehabilitation physiatrists, neuropsychologists and neuroscientists.

Therapy is determined case by case, Rempson says, and can by done by physical therapists or other specialists. Visual retraining, for example, can be performed by a neuro-ophthalmologist or ophthalmologist who has specialized training in this area, while low-level exercise may be overseen by an athletic trainer.

As funding increases for research, you can also expect that opportunities for clinical research associates, data specialists and neuroscientists will increasingly become available.

How can you get hired?

If you are already a health care provider and are interested in getting into concussion medicine, Rempson recommends spending time in a concussion center where a practitioner sees concussion patients regularly. “There is no better experience than learning from a team of practitioners that specializes in this area,” he says.

If you work in a large health care facility, your employer may have already implemented some kind of concussion initiative. Many hospitals, clinics and medical groups are developing concussion-based programs for their patients, says Jenna Hickman, athletic trainer for University of Maryland Sports Medicine and Towson Sports Medicine.  

Classes in sports medicine and athletic training are also helpful, especially if you’re interested in working specifically with athletes.

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