Office of the Vice President for Global Communications

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

U-M doctor tells panel sports concussions hard to classify

U-M neurologist Dr. Jeffrey Kutcher told those at a U.S. House Judiciary Committee hearing Monday that sports concussions are complicated health issues that require individualized treatment.

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At a field hearing led by Judiciary Chair John Conyers, D-Detroit, Kutcher said each person reacts to a concussion differently, making it difficult to come up with a single protocol for treatment. The hearing was at Wayne State University’s medical school.

Kutcher called for more support for research into concussions and their treatments.

“We need to better understand what risk factors lead to worse outcomes and how much risk can be attributed to genetic versus environmental factors,” Kutcher said.

Dr. Jeffrey Kutcher, left, testifies during a U.S. House Judiciary Committee field hearing Monday. At right is Chris Nowinski, head of the Sports Legacy Institute and a former professional wrestler. (Photo by Mike Waring)

Kutcher, who serves as a sideline physician at U-M and Eastern Michigan University events, said student-athletes who receive a head injury get an immediate clinical evaluation by a certified trainer or team physician, when present, on the field. No athlete is allowed to return to play until he or she is symptom-free and has undergone a series of graded exercise challenges without a return of symptoms.

“The key to making these programs work is the direct involvement of an experienced and knowledgeable medical staff,” he said.

Kutcher, who also leads the sports neurology section of the American Academy of Neurology, said that organization is working to increase awareness of concussion issues among the medical community, and to ensure that certified trainers are present at contact and collision sporting events.

“I am confident that together, we will do what is best for athletes at all levels,” he added.