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A pilot program has reduced sports-related concussions at least 80 percent at Westmont Hilltop High School, leaders announced Wednesday at the school.
“In my opinion, this is a game changer,” Dr. Russell Dumire of Conemaugh Health System said at a news conference in the Westmont school library.
“This will decrease the concussion rate. We have shown that conclusively.”
Although Dumire admits it will take additional study to prove the effectiveness, the Strong Minded initiative is promising in an area where success is rare. Most concussion programs focus on detecting injuries and preventing additional complications by sidelining athletes with symptoms.
The collaboration between Westmont and Conemaugh expands on the locally developed Mobility, Agility, Stability, Strength and Flexibility regimen to build neck and back muscles.
Using a glass container of water and an egg, Thomas Causer, Conemaugh’s trauma prevention coordinator, demonstrated the most common cause of concussions.
Shaking the container abruptly caused the egg to crack against the glass wall, much as the brain is injured when the head moves abruptly as it bounces off the ground, another player or an object.
“A common misconception is that concussions are caused by a blow to the head,” Causer said. “The majority are actually caused by the brain being whipped around inside the skull.
“This (conditioning) program enhances the neck and core muscles to help reduce that whiplash effect.”
Strong Minded was introduced through the football, soccer and volleyball programs. In the initial year, there were just two concussions, compared to 11 to 15 in recent years, Dumire said.
As director of Conemaugh Memorial’s Level One trauma center, Dumire says he too often sees the negative effects of high school sports.
“Concussions account for 90 percent of brain injuries,” Dumire said. “Of the 4 million athletes who suffer concussions each year, 1 in 5 will not fully recover.
“There is no doubt in my mind that this warrants being taken to the next level.”
The next step is to expand the program to all Westmont Hilltop varsity sports and track the results. Continued success will produce a program that can be brought to other schools.
Boys soccer coach Jason Hughes said concussion risk is always on his mind, so he jumped at the chance to participate. As an added bonus, the focused conditioning and education of Strong Minded’s protocols has produced better athletes, he said.
“I feel the kids are jumping higher and we are winning more balls in the air,” Hughes said. “I want more schools to use it.
“It is a phenomenal program. I can’t wait for it to take off.”
Randy Griffith is a multimedia reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at 532-5057. Follow him on Twitter @PhotoGriffer57.