As the school year and fall sports get underway, the topic of concussions—from how to reduce your child’s risk to what to know about baseline testing—often comes into play. Here’s some more important information to consider: the role that technology plays in concussion management—and what type of equipment is used, should your student-athlete experience a concussion.
“While there is no one piece of technology or equipment that can ‘diagnose’ concussions, advancements in technology can assist physicians and therapists to properly assess and treat them,” explains Lauren DiChiara, PT, DPT, NCS, Senior Physical Therapist in the outpatient department at Burke Rehabilitation Hospital. “This is especially helpful to the concussion team in determining the trajectory of symptoms and establishing an individualized treatment plan.”
And while every concussion is different and utilizing technology won’t necessarily speed up the healing process, “it does provide valuable insight into certain symptoms,” explains DiChiara. “For example, the infrared goggle system can detect certain eye movements to help diagnose a certain cause of vertigo, which may not have been seen with the naked eye.”
Says Katelyn Walter, PT, DPT, NCS, Advanced Senior Clinician in the outpatient department at Burke, “Technology also allows us to challenge our patients in novel and more exciting ways. This helps us to mimic more intensive or dynamic situations while also engaging our patients in their rehabilitation.”
From laptops and tablets to infrared technology, here’s a look at some of the cutting-edge equipment and technology used in the Concussion Management Program at Burke to help patients:
Infrared Goggles: “In my opinion, you can’t have a proper concussion program without an infrared goggle system,” says DiChiara. The goggles are placed over the patient’s eyes (like a swim mask, describes Walter) and connected to a laptop. “These goggles allow us to see your eyes on a computer screen as we perform different tests to determine possible causes of your symptoms,” explains DiChiara. There are certain tests that can only be performed using the goggles—and the equipment can also help identify problems for which a patient might need to go back to their primary physician, they say.
Shuttle Balance: This equipment can be used to help with high-level balance problems, says Walter. “The shuttle balance is a platform that is suspended by chains and supported by bungee cords. The platform moves slightly, but the level of difficulty can be adjusted by the physical therapist,” she explains. “It can mimic unstable surfaces that are difficult to recreate with traditional physical therapy equipment.” The therapist can also incorporate challenges while the patient is on the shuttle balance, like having the patient do squats or throwing and/or catching a ball, Walter says.
Fitlight Trainer: “My patients have loved the addition of these to our sessions and [it] even prompted one to state, ‘physical therapy is so fun!’” says Walter. Here’s how DiChiara describes the equipment: “This system is a series of small portable discs that you can program to light up different colors, to create coordination, balance and cognitive exercises simultaneously. For example, you can attach three of the discs to the floor or wall, set up when each one lights up, and have your patient do something different each time like jumping on one foot, bending to tap the disc, etc. This system helps improve eye hand coordination, neuromuscular control and reaction time with immediate feedback.”
Headband Laser: Worn like a headlamp, this is a simple piece of equipment that can offer up a lot of information. “It’s used to assist in determining cervical proprioception—or the ability of someone to know where their head/neck are in space,” explains DiChiara. “There has been more research coming out to suggest that the neck affects balance and dizziness, so this is something we’ve incorporated into our assessment and treatment approach.”
And while technology is important in the treatment of concussions, both Walter and DiChiara agree that it’s only part of the equation.
For example: “We utilize pieces of paper and popsicle sticks with letters or pictures on them for gaze stability exercises, pieces of foam, BOSUs and wobble boards to challenge a patient’s balance, and basic sport equipment like bouncing balls, soccer balls, etc. to incorporate sport-like activities,” explains Walter.
“Physical therapy can be provided for patients with concussions without technology, but the presence of new and emerging equipment can enhance rehabilitation and provide more accurate assessments. It’s important to utilize technology as a piece of the physical therapy puzzle, as opposed to a stand-alone treatment or assessment technique,” says Walter.
“Each treatment plan is catered to the individual patient, so it depends on what their goals are and what we need to work on,” explains DiChiara.
Burke’s concussion management program is offered in its outpatient locations in White Plains, Purchase, Mamaroneck, Yonkers (both Ridge Hill and Executive Plaza) and Somers.