Lacrosse players to participate in study

Michael Rothberg

Lacrosse players will have the opportunity to take part in a lifelong study beginning this spring season to test the long-term effects of concussions.

The Institute for Scholastic Sports Science and Medicine at Harvard-Westlake is participating in a national study that tracks the neurological effects of head injuries on athletes throughout and beyond their middle and high school athletic careers.

The voluntary study, entitled “The National Sport Concussion Outcomes Study,” and funded by the NCAA, will test members of the middle school and high school lacrosse teams during the spring season. Participants will be tested throughout their entire lives if they remain enrolled in the study. Harvard-Westlake lacrosse student-athletes will be the first middle and high school participants in the study, Director of Sports Medicine Milo Sini said in a letter to parents of lacrosse players.

“This will be the first prospective study to compare concussion rates and severity indices between equipment types and characteristics.” Sini said. “It will raise awareness and greatly expand our understanding of the role sub-concussive head impacts play on an athlete’s cognitive health.”

ISSSM is contributing to the study in partnership with the University of California Los Angeles, the University of Michigan, the Medical College of Wisconsin and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Though the study is only testing members of the lacrosse teams, the researchers plan to include other sports in the future.

“There is growing concern about the cumulative effect of concussions on long-term cognitive health, and yet our current understanding of what factors contribute to later problems is inadequate,” said Christopher Giza, the principal investigator at UCLA.

The study is optional, confidential, free of cost to participant lacrosse athletes, and non-invasive, according to Christa Choe ’94, a pediatric neurology researcher at the UCLA Brain Injury Research Center, who spoke about the study at a lacrosse parents’ meeting.

“We think that what we are doing is very important and will help with trying to figure out what outcomes and what treatments will be appropriate for children in the future.” Choe, a former Harvard-Westlake athlete and coach, said. “In the future, we also plan to roll out some devices as well, so probably an accelerometer in mouthpieces and helmets, to measure the head impacts that each athlete are getting.”

In addition to the computerized baseline concussion tests that Lacrosse athletes take, participants in the study will also be evaluated for a set of standard baseline assessments with criteria such as memory, reaction time, and other physical measurements according to Choe. Participant athletes who sustain concussions during the study will be evaluated within 24 hours of the injury and then reevaluated when the he or she becomes asymptomatic.

For the baseline evaluations, UCLA researchers will come to campus. The baseline measurements will be taken at the beginning and end of each season of lacrosse throughout a participant’s middle school and high school careers.

“We will work with the coaches to make sure it’s the least amount of downtime for your kids to either be practicing,” Sini said. “All our studies we do here are about making it as easy as possible for your extremely busy kids.”

Multi-sport athletes who play lacrosse are allowed to participate in the study.

“This is something that we are very excited about from an administrative standpoint,” Athletic Director Terry Barnum said. “I think all of us who have watched or followed the news in the past 18 months, you can’t go a week without hearing something about head injuries or concussions. We see this as an opportunity to demystify [concussions] a little bit. What this study is going to do over time is provide us with very valuable information about how these injuries occur, why they occur, things that we can do to potentially prevent them from happening, and gather that information. This longitudinal study is going to require some effort, but the outcome will be well worth it.”