Several football players on top of each other on the ground

Sports medicine students tackle sideline assessment tool

When a football player gets tackled to the ground and doesn’t get up right away, the team’s certified athletic trainers rush out to the field, start assessing the player’s injuries and help him over to the sideline for further examinations and treatment.

There are numerous tests athletic trainers administer to determine the type and severity of these injuries, and four of Assistant Professor Shelley Linens’ graduate students are spending their fall semesters at different high schools gathering data on one particular sideline assessment tool.

Sports medicine students Christopher Leeds, Amanda Clements, Christina Curran and Lauren Brueck have learned how to administer the Balance Error Scoring System (BESS), an assessment method sideline staff use to assess athletes who incur mild concussions on the field.

They use a specifically-designed foam pad, a stopwatch and the BESS scorecard to conduct six, 20-second trials with athletes, such as balancing on one leg and standing heel-to-toe. They’ll do this once at the beginning of the season to record baseline data about their students’ balance, and when a student gets a concussion during play, they’ll conduct it again and compare it to the baseline information.

“If they have a concussion, it’s an easy tool to use to see how severe it is,” Clements said. “Also, you can use the BESS again a week after their injury to see if they’ve gotten closer or further away from their baseline.”

Though the BESS isn’t the only method sports medicine staff use to assess the severity of a concussion – they also ask students about their symptoms and use computerized tools to test reaction time and memory – its portability has made it popular at several schools since researchers at the University of North Carolina first developed it.

For Leeds, Clements, Curran and Brueck, this semester’s research will help them determine if the BESS is a practical, useful sideline tool for assessing student athletes’ concussions, particularly at the high school level, where little research has been done in this area.

“Are they off-balance because it’s the fourth quarter, they’re dehydrated and they’re exhausted right after a full week of school, or are they having the balance issues because they’ve taken a hit on the field?” Brueck said. “That’s what we’re trying to find out.”

With millions of students across the U.S. participating in high school sports every year, it’s vital for Linens and her students to learn more about how concussions affect high school-aged athletes.

“It’s important to conduct this research because of the potential short-term and long-term effects following a concussion,” Linens said. “For example, short-term effects include sleep disturbances, headaches and disruption of concentration in an academic setting. In the long term, we’re concerned about the development of depression, memory loss and chronic traumatic encephalopathy.”