USA Rugby’s new partnership with TeachAids and its Crashcourse Concussion Education is a big step forward in educating coaches, players and player families on how to deal with concussions.
Rugby has often prided itself as a sport on taking concussions seriously, and that complacency is, for the most part, justified, but there is always more to learn. TeachAids is a non-profit social enterprise that creates groundbreaking software that addresses many persistent issues, including their CrashCourse suite of multi-sport concussion education products.
Their education takes the idea that all concussions need a weeks off period with enforced rest and reduced sensory input, or that concussions can just be shaken off, and keeps those ideas on their head. . In a way, the old form of concussion management was similar whether you worried about it or not – either shake it off and get back to the game as soon as possible, or stop doing much and wait until the brain repairs itself. The similarity of approach was the absence of treatment.
“You can’t see it, you can’t touch it, you can’t really feel it.”
What TeachAids and the organization’s founder and CEO, Dr Piya Sorcar, wanted to do was find a way to treat concussions. “When you have surgery on your ACL, your doctor doesn’t then say ‘your ACL is fixed, let’s go!’ But we’re doing it with the most vital organ in the body,” said Scott Anderson, the medical adviser to TeachAids and who was director of athletic training and sports medicine at Stanford University for 10 years.Unlike a broken bone or a dislocation or even a sprain that makes an athlete wince, concussions are invisible.
“You can’t see it, you can’t touch it, you can’t really feel it,” Anderson said. “And so you can convince yourself that you are fine. There is also a reluctance to talk about it. One of the things we heard from athletes was that there’s a fear around disclosing this condition because it can’t be seen by anyone else. Athletes think there is a lot to lose by revealing a concussion, when in fact they have a lot more to lose by hiding it.
Data collected by TeachAids includes a concussion story wall featuring video accounts from more than 700 athletes, medical experts and everyday people.
Rugby players can see the stories and, Sorcar said, can understand the symptoms and experiences mentioned in those stories. “A lot of athletes said they felt alone with this injury,” Sorcar said. “But now athletes can see others who have gone through the same struggles.”
What they found and what TeachAids talks about in their videos and other products is that concussions show up in different ways. From headaches to nausea, confusion to irritability, memory problems, balance issues or even depression, each brain injury can affect a different part of the brain.
All athletes, and certainly rugby players, need to understand these symptoms. “There have never really been any evidence-based concussion education tools that have been informed by the affected population,” Anderson said. “I think there’s a fair amount of empathy in the way these products have been developed, with the end user in mind. In the Concussion Story Wall, we have over 4,000 testimonials and first-hand experiences with a concussion. No one has been able to establish such a scale of understanding of what those affected by this injury go through. This has been combined with best-in-class data and technology.
Not Your Dad’s Concussion Treatment Plan
Understanding and concern about concussions has changed significantly over the past five to 10 years, but Anderson said there’s no consensus on what that change looks like.
“Before, the standard of care was to sit in a dark room and do nothing until your symptoms cleared up,” he explained. “And about 75% of people still use it as their preferred treatment.”
But TeachAids points to scientific research that illustrates that actively treating concussion can not only help alleviate long-term problems, but also get you back to normal faster. “Many of these concussion cases had prolonged outcomes due to lack of treatment,” Anderson said. “But concussion is treatable and people have gotten better after receiving treatment.”
Concussion can be a serious problem if you leave it alone – you wouldn’t let a broken arm fix itself, why would you let your injured brain fix itself? “When you have a concussion you should be treated by a specialist and there’s no reason why we don’t have rehab for that,” Anderson said. “You can have symptoms that go away while having a lasting impairment, and the longer it takes before you receive treatment, the more likely you are to have other types of injuries.”
At GRR we won’t go into the details of the treatment – you should get it from a professional – but we will say that it involves being more active than sitting in a dark room. It involves engaging your body and brain to do things they normally do. The data and understanding has led experts to change the way concussions are treated from no treatment to a specific plan.