For two local physical therapists, good health begins – at least in part – above one’s shoulders.
Colleen O’Kane – owner of Bodies in Motion Physical Therapy in Los Altos – and Angie Moore combined forces earlier this year to form BrainOn! to provide concussion testing services to local youth athletic leagues. The duo partnered with the Mountain View Los Altos Soccer Club during its recently completed fall season to conduct tests on more than 700 of its young athletes.
“I always ask kids, ‘Do you want to go to college?’ Well, you need your brain for that,” O’Kane said of her motivation behind the venture. “If you’ve got headaches and have trouble thinking or organizing … those are key life things. Some people don’t realize that those are the things you lose when you get too many concussions.”
Moore, a physical therapist with more than 20 years of experience in neurological, orthopedic and sports rehabilitation, added that awareness of the effects of concussions – or, in some cases, scrutiny over how they’re treated – has increased in recent years.
In late 2011, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law Assembly Bill 25, requiring school districts to remove a student-athlete from a school-sponsored sporting event for the remainder of the day if he or she is suspected of sustaining a concussion. The bill, which took effect Jan. 1, 2012, also requires written medical clearance from a licensed health-care provider before the athlete returns to action. State Assembly Bill 1451 – signed into law in August 2012 by Brown – also requires high school coaches to undergo training every two years to recognize and respond to symptoms of a potential concussion.
On a larger stage, the National Football League earlier this year reached a $765 million settlement with more than 4,500 former players over brain injuries sustained during their careers.
Moore and O’Kane said more education in local communities is still needed, noting that national and statewide attention on the problem sometimes results in a trickle-down effect locally.
“I think some people have bought into protecting their kids’ brains, but some people definitely have not,” O’Kane said. “And some people, if their kid misses one game – there goes their big chance. It’s a highly competitive area.”
According to O’Kane, younger children are just as susceptible to sustaining concussions.
“When they get concussions, they’re often worse and take longer to heal,” she said. “Because their brains are so busy developing, they don’t have the bandwidth to heal as rapidly.”
With this in mind, the duo offers baseline and follow-up testing via ImPACT (Immediate Post-Concussion Assessment Cognitive Testing) – a computer program that tracks neurocognitive functions, memory retention, brain processing speeds, reactions and other factors. Several professional clubs, including those in Major League Baseball, the NFL, the National Hockey League and NASCAR, currently use the test.
O’Kane said the test essentially serves as “a brain game” that typically takes 30-35 minutes to complete and aids medical professionals in guiding athletes back into activities “so that it’s not so much of a guessing game.”
“If you get a concussion, we use this test to compare (you) to your pre-injury (baseline) test,” she said, adding that the initial partnership with the soccer league resulted in an “overwhelmingly supportive” response from parents and guardians of athletes.
Ultimately, O’Kane and Moore said they hope to expand their service to other local youth athletic leagues in an effort to continue spreading awareness on the issue.
“Concussions are not something to be taken lightly,” O’Kane said. “This is a brain injury … so I think the more education we can get out there, the better.”