Concussion Research in North Carolina Could Change the Game

CHARLOTTE, NC -New research happening in North Carolina about concussions and their impact on the brain could change the way sports are played. UNC Chapel Hill is conducting a massive study for the NFL, but the findings could pave the way for changes at the youth level as well.

“I don’t think I could live without soccer honestly,” said Hannah Johnson, juggling a soccer ball.

The 14 year old plays for Lake Norman Soccer Club and says soccer is her passion.

In grade school, her family made the difficult decision for Hannah to sit out a year after she suffered two concussions while on a playground. Hannah now wears a specially designed concussion headband when she steps on the field.

“I find it comfortable because I wear it all the time,” said Hannah.

“I was really dizzy a lot and light headed,” said Hannah, “it was like I was here, but not really here.”

Now, new research at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill involving NFL players could have an impact on athletes like Hannah, in all sports and age groups.

“We’re trying to improve safety in sport,” said Dr. Kevin Guskiewicz, with UNC Chapel Hill.

He was recently granted 14.7 million dollars to study the potential long term neurological impact of concussions in 250 retired NFL players.
He started the sports concussion research program at UNC Chapel Hill.

“We want to find better ways to diagnose concussions,” said Guskiewicz, “manage them when they do occur and safely return the players to play. ”

His research led to the NFL moving up the kickoff on the field, resulting in 33% fewer head injuries in the year following the change.

Since 2004 Guskiewicz has placed accelerometers inside of UNC football helmets. They now have information from 750 thousand impacts. He’s used that information to develop ways to test athletes balance using a functional balance machine.

“I think people are taking notice that if they’re making changes at that level, we better be making them at our level,” said Guskiewicz.

Youth league directors, coaches, and parents are listening to the information put out by Guskiewicz and adapting to make the game safer in all sports.

“It’s squishy,” said Hannah, putting on her concussion headband, “like a padding that goes on my forehead.”

“Hopefully diminishing the impact if she were to have one. It helps to sort of disperse that impact,” explained Hannah’s mom Cindy Johnson.

Johnson says the work coming out of UNC Chapel Hill and other research institutions is becoming more prevalent.

“I think it’s in the movies, it’s on the news. I think it’s everywhere we’re looking right now,” said Johnson.

North Carolina now requires baseline concussion testing for high school athletes when they start a sport.  Sideline doctors are better trained to identify concussions early.  And parents like Johnson say they’re more aware of the risks that they’re willing to take.

“I can’t keep her in a bubble and I can’t keep her out of something that she truly passionately loves,” said Johnson.