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Your Healthy Family: UCHealth's new concussion assessment clinics

Posted at 5:55 PM, Aug 31, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-31 20:31:10-04

COLORADO SPRINGS — UCHealth Memorial has opened up several new concussion assessment clinics in southern Colorado to improve the diagnosis and treatment of concussions that in many cases may go untreated.

Dr. Nicholas Piantanida, MD, MBA, FACHE is the medical director of integrated sports medicine with UCHealth.

Dr. Piantanida says, “We want to grab early assessments and get treatment going early so that we can get this population back to doing the things they love to do.”

Most people understand when you take a serious blow to the head that leaves you dazed you likely suffered a concussion to some degree. These produce what Dr. Piantanida calls the red flag warning symptoms of a concussion - that are hard to miss.

“These red flag symptoms are the ones that I want to emphasize that should get you immediately to the emergency room to look at what might be more of a structural injury to the head. Some of those might be repeated vomiting, new-onset seizure, pain that is out of proportion in the head neck or a headache that won't go away. Not being able to sleep well can be a symptom of a mild concussion but if you can’t get any sleep, that’s considered a red flag symptom.”

But did you know, you can suffer a concussion without your head actually hitting anything? This can happen when a hit to the head, neck, or body during sports or any physical activity that causes the brain to move inside the skull, affecting its function. These concussions are usually mild to moderate and can come with more subtle symptoms.

Dr. Piantanida says, “There's a large number of (these) symptoms and that’s why 5 in 10 patients may be missed or go undiagnosed. That's dizziness, a headache, nausea, or maybe some cognitive slowing or fog.”

If these subtle symptoms can be recognized and acted on care can be expedited and improved. That’s a big focus of the new concussion assessment clinics says Dr. Piantanida. “The discovery arm of this program is by far the most important and in that arm, we're reaching out to coaches and parents and all the entities that might have an opportunity to see that patient with a head injury and get them linked up to the concussion assessment clinics. We're really pushing out in this concussion care program a great number of educational touchpoints. We're reaching out to area urgent cares and the emergency departments. We have our own website where we're encouraging our primary care team members across the city to go and make sure they have all the resources.”

This new initiative also brings mental health resources into the concussion assessment process and treatment if needed. “Emotional changes can be the irritability, even depression and there's even been described suicide unfortunately with prolonged lack of attention to head injuries and concussions particularly.”

All of this top-level concussion care is available right here in southern Colorado. “We are spread out from the southern end of Colorado Springs at Printers Park medical plaza we have a large physical therapy group there, to the Scarborough off the Powers corridor and on Woodmen at the Matthew's VU campus and there is a physical therapy location on 6th and there’s a location in Woodland Park. Embedded inside our physical therapy clinics, we have a group of neuro physical therapy trained specialists that are focusing on these types of injuries and can be most effective if you get them in 24 to 72 hours.”

Dr. Piantanida says it’s the early recognition and intervention that can make a big difference in managing concussions. “If we get you into care in 24 to 72 hours that’s the key. The typical 45% of concussions will resolve in about 2 weeks and we're really trying to push the recovery before that.”

It can be a matter of more quickly being able to get back to school or work by managing those subtle symptoms that can have a big effect on your overall quality of life.

Dr. Piantanida says, “Take the ocular vestibular system. Those symptoms that give you dizziness and blurred vision. These are really significant symptoms that affect your driving and many of your activities of daily living. In my practice, we see teenagers often and many of them are driving so we can start the education immediately. We say, ‘This is not a time for you to be driving.’ This is also a time where we can get therapy started in the concussion assessment clinics, very effective therapy and very quickly often in a matter of three or four sessions and we can get that vestibular system relined and re-equilibrated so balance and a difficulty reading or focusing on your study material or what the boss wants you to do that day can improve and we can get you back to sleep. There are all these resources we have that are not just about the physical resolution, but also about some of the health lifestyle solutions that we provide in these concussion assessment clinics.”

For more information, visit The UCHealth concussion assessment clinic website.

If you suspect a concussion, call the HealthLink Nurse Triage Line at 719.444.2273 for more information.

Call 911 or go to the hospital immediately if you show any of these symptoms: Loss of consciousness Worsening headache Confused or very drowsy Cannot recognize people and places Seizure Slurred or slowed speech Frequent vomiting Unexplained weakness

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