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ETSU’s concussion management program expanding its services

East Tennessee State University’s concussion management program has expanded its testing protocol and increased its services for the university’s student athletes.

Since 2016, faculty and students within the Department of Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology in ETSU’s College of Clinical and Rehabilitative Health Sciences have been handling the university’s concussion management program for the ETSU Department of Athletics.

All of ETSU’s approximately 400 athletes visit the program to undergo baseline concussion testing before their seasons begin. If a student athlete sustains a suspected concussion during play, Athletics staff will complete a sideline evaluation at that time. If a concussion is suspected, the athlete returns to the Speech-Language and Hearing Clinic for post-concussion testing and follow-up. The team physician ultimately clears the student athlete for return to play.

While the NCAA mandates a concussion management program for all universities, this unique collaborative effort between Athletics and the Department of Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology has led to good outcomes for ETSU’s student athletes.

“For the last two years, the concussion management program has provided a more detailed, structured environment for our athletes,” said Brett Lewis, head athletic trainer at ETSU. “Our athletes get a lot of one-on-one screening and detailed reports. With the screening and education they are receiving, we are making great strides to keep them healthier.”

A recent $5,979 clinical enhancement grant from the College of Clinical and Rehabilitative Health will increase the services offered to ETSU athletes, as well as move toward ways to potentially expand the program’s outreach to the community, said Courtney Andrews, assistant professor of Speech-Language Pathology at ETSU.

The funds have allowed for new screening equipment and training on interdisciplinary concussion management.

“We are piloting something called VOMS – vestibular ocular motor screening – that is very sensitive in detecting concussions,” Andrews said. “Currently, we’re using VOMS with the men’s basketball players, and we are looking at adding it to our full protocol at some point.”

The grant is also bolstering the work of ETSU’s interdisciplinary concussion team, which involves experts from ETSU’s Departments of Nutrition, Physical Therapy (PT), Audiology, Speech-Language Pathology and Disability Services.

“We’re looking into ways to treat the student athletes therapeutically, rather than just doing the testing,” Andrews said. “For example, the nutritionist can provide recommendations regarding nutrition and how that can aid the healing of the body and the brain.”

Earlier this year, ETSU’s concussion team traveled to Vanderbilt University to study its concussion management program and investigate other methods that could be implemented at ETSU.

“One thing that is nice about the concussion clinic at Vanderbilt is that it is open to people from the community who receive sports-related concussions,” Andrews said. “One of our goals is to be able to offer our services to our local community, such as the minor league sports teams, schools and youth sports.

“The ultimate goal of our team is to have a concussion clinic at ETSU,” Andrews said. “That is something we’re working toward, and this grant is helping us move closer to that goal.”