The Fort Zumwalt School District will continue to test its athletes – both on and off the field – for the effects of concussions.
The district will utilize the ImPACT testing program again next year for its high school athletes involved with football, soccer and cheerleading.
Brandon Larkin, M.D., with Advanced Bone and Joint in St. Peters, presented the results from the latest ImPACT testing at the Board of Education meeting on July 21.
ImPACT is a computerized neurocognitive test used to evaluate athletes who have sustained a concussion. The test looks at eight key neurocognitive domains, including: impulse control, sustained attention span, visuomotor processing speed, visual and verbal memory, working memory, selection attention, reaction time and response variability.
Larkin said all incoming freshmen and juniors in soccer, cheerleading and football take the baseline test before the season begins. Last year 510 athletes were tested.
If an athlete is injured during the season, they repeat the test once the symptoms of concussion resolve. A return to play progression is begun only when the athlete is completely asymptomatic and has returned to their pre-injury baseline level of tested performance.
“If injury occurs during year, we can compare with the post-injury performance. (The test) helps to guide the return to the field … it’s a tool,” Larkin said, acknowledging that the test is not the single determining factor.
During the 2013-14 school year, 46 percent of concussion injuries were in football, 17 percent in girls and boys soccer, and 14 percent in cheerleading. Student athletes in those sports suffered a total of 134 concussions last year. Broken down by schools, North High had 42 concussions among its athletes; West High reported 36 concussions; South High reported 41 concussions; and East High reported 15 concussions.
Larkin said the goal of the ImPACT program is ensure that athletes return safely to the field.
“Oftentimes, (athletes) may under-report their symptoms to get on the field faster,” Larkin said.
Symptoms for a normal concussion last seven to 10 days, Larkin said. However, returning to the field before recovery and suffering a second concussion could cause symptoms to last several months.
“(ImPACT testing) is important because it gives a scientific approach towards deciding on return dates for injured athletes,” said Superintendent Dr. Bernie DuBray.
Fort Zumwalt was the first school district in St. Charles County to utilize the program, beginning five years ago. Francis Howell added the program a year later.
Since its inception in August 2010, 2,606 baseline tests and 487 post-injury tests have been performed in the district.
“The post-injury numbers do not directly reflect a one-to-one relationship of test to injury – meaning some injuries require more than one test before the athlete returns to their baseline,” Larkin said.
The program, which affects about 1,000 athletes a year, costs the district approximately $1,550 a year. The district’s athletic trainers administer the tests and the whole program is overseen by Larkin.