September 15, 2021

The end of September marks Concussion Awareness Week, seven days dedicated to raising awareness, starting important conversations and promoting a safer sports culture. Did you know that Athletic Therapists have extensive expertise in the injury and recovery of concussions whether the injury occurs at home, work or on the field? This Concussion Awareness Week, we sat down with Certified Athletic Therapist (CAT(C)) Dr. Loriann Hynes to learn more about concussions and how Athletic Therapy can be pivotal to rehabilitation.

Meet Dr. Loriann Hynes
After graduating from Sheridan College and completing her PhD at the University of Guelph, Dr. Hynes developed an interest in concussions and began to closely work with those who had sustained a brain injury. She has been a practicing Athletic Therapist for 24 years and taught at the only two accredited Athletic Therapy institutions in Ontario, Sheridan College and York University, where she has worked since 2015.

Dr. Hynes Explains Concussions and How an Athletic Therapist Can Help
Concussions are a subcategory on the mild traumatic brain injury spectrum. From a sports medicine standpoint, Dr. Hynes defines these injuries as those that occur on the field as a result of a sports-related collision or impact. There is also increased potential for a concussion to occur in contact sports such as hockey or football. However, concussions are not restricted to sport and can occur in the workplace or because of an accident.

When it comes to Athletic Therapy and concussion, Dr. Hynes says it is the only profession that is extensively educated on how to recognize and manage concussions when they first happen and start an immediate management process. Athletic Therapists are unique as they are the only healthcare professionals educated on the entire continuum of injury, from the moment it happens to successful recovery. They also have sideline sports care experience and knowledge in clinical rehabilitation to return athletes to the field or help individuals resume their normal lifestyles.

Why Are Concussions a Concern?
Dr. Hynes shared Athletic Therapists’ biggest concern with concussions is when the injury is not managed properly early on as it can then become a long-term problem or lead to a more catastrophic injury. For example, a rare but potential outcome is second impact syndrome, which occurs when the brain hasn’t healed from the initial impact and is exposed to another concussion injury, which can lead to the brain starting to shut down.

This goes to show how critical it is to manage a catastrophic brain injury immediately, before it can cause long-term problems such as recurring headaches, problems concentrating, or memory loss.

Concussion Prevention in Sport
According to Dr. Hynes, one of the most important things in concussion prevention is to be aware of the signs and symptoms, followed by stopping activity if you’re experiencing any of them and seeking immediate medical advice.

While engaging in a sport, it's also key to know and play within the rules of the game. Often, injury in sport could occur from action or activity outside normal gameplay because the rules are designed to protect athletes from injury. For example, cross checking from behind in hockey is not allowed because it increases the risk of head and spine injury. So always play within the rules!

Athletic Therapists’ role in prevention on the field is critical for safe play as is their ability to make sure all athletes are fit to play. By being on the sidelines, they recognize when an injury or potential concussion occurs and can evaluate the athletes immediately. Another element to their role is educating athletes on not going back to play and the potential risks from an injury, including educating the coaching staff.

Recovery with Athletic Therapy
One challenge with concussion recovery is finding ways to help individuals recover in a manner that is beneficial to their specific injury as there are many different protocols.

When employed with a varsity or professional team, Athletic Therapists work with athletes from the moment of injury and monitor them throughout the rehab process. However, other youth or amateur athletes often don’t have the same access on the field, so they only receive rehabilitation if they seek it in private clinics.

Dr. Hynes tells us that roughly 85% of concussion patients recover with no issues and no significant rehab requirements other than making sure they don’t overwork themselves cognitively or physically, especially within a 10-14 day window following injury. Recognizing injury and allowing your body to heal is important to your recovery; however, being monitored to provide guidance for increasing your cognitive and physical load throughout the recovery process is where an Athletic Therapist’s help is invaluable.

The other 15% of people who don’t fully recover often experience persistent symptoms and will be the ones who need much more integration from a rehab standpoint. Several factors may impact recovery as different people may need different types of help depending on their needs, concussion history, how severe their injury was, and if they have any pre-existing conditions.

Dr. Hynes says Athletic Therapists are “the best kept secret for concussion injury and recovery” as they are not fully recognized for their specialization and the extensive knowledge they have in that realm. People may also believe Athletic Therapy is only for athletes when Athletic Therapists work with everyone. Whether you experienced your injury through sport or not, it’s still a concussion and Athletic Therapists can help!

Interested in learning more about concussions prevention and awareness? Dr. Hynes provided some excellent resources:

Resources on concussion education

National groups and committees that Athletic Therapists sit on:

If you enjoyed learning about the role of Athletic Therapy in concussion treatment and management, don’t forget to follow us on Instagram and follow our new Facebook and LinkedIn pages as we continue to provide you with more exciting looks into the field of Athletic Therapy!