Data on every consenting Rutgers athlete who experiences a concussion is helping to inform a large-scale, nationwide study aimed at making sports safer for student-athletes.
Rutgers is part of the Big Ten-Ivy League Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) Research Collaboration, comprised of the nation's most elite athletic and academic universities, and is participating in its Big Ten-Ivy League Epidemiology of Concussions study.
Rutgers School of Health Professions researcher Carrie Esopenko, assistant professor in the Department of Rehabilitation and Movement Sciences and an expert on head trauma, enrolled the university in the groundbreaking study.
This provides an invaluable opportunity for ongoing collaboration between physicians, athletic trainers, researchers, and administrators to understand who's at a higher risk of injury, and how we can reduce that risk,"
Carrie Esopenko, assistant professor in the Department of Rehabilitation and Movement Sciences, Rutgers School of Health Professions
The multi-institutional effort broadens the sports concussion data registry to all documented concussions sustained by athletes in varsity sports at 18 participating Ivy League and Big Ten schools.
At Rutgers, that has meant creating a form for every concussion sustained by a Division One athlete.
"We want to know the mechanisms of how it occurred. Was it contact to a helmet? Was it an elbow to the head? Was it during practice, a scrimmage? What type of play was it? What position was the athlete playing? Was a foul called?" said Kyle Brostrand, Rutgers assistant athletic trainer and coordinator of concussion management and research.
Within the TBI collaboration, Esopenko is the principal investigator for Rutgers, while Brostrand manages data collection.
The partnership of research and sports medicine is what makes the TBI Collaboration unique in its approach to studying the effects of sports-related concussions and how to better prevent, detect and treat them, according to Martha Cooper, assistant director of the Big Ten Academic Alliance.
Its work has literally been a game changer.
When data from the Epidemiology of Concussions study showed that a disproportionately high number of concussions occurred on kickoffs, the Ivy League athletic conference implemented a change in rules on kickoffs and touchbacks. The change led to a 68 percent drop in concussion rates, according to findings released in October, and those findings sparked new NCAA kickoff rules.
Now in its sixth year of data collection, the study has produced "a robust database yielding novel opportunities to better understand the epidemiology of concussion among university student-athletes participating in a variety of sports," according to a report on methods and findings published in April in the American Journal of Sports Medicine. "These findings add to our understanding of SRC (sports-related concussions) and are the first of many that will be generated over the coming years."
This week Esopenko and Brostrand are taking part in a two-day annual Traumatic Brain Injury Summit in Rosemont, Illinois. Researchers, clinicians, and administrators from the 22 member universities are discussing their research and clinical practice as it relates to concussion.
The annual summits provide a platform for Big Ten and Ivy League affiliates to present their work, identify best practices and develop research partnerships within and across the conferences that will ultimately lead to improved health and safety for student-athletes.
"Through this collaboration, we are at the forefront of understanding what increases risks of concussions and reducing the risks and prevalence of concussion," said Esopenko.
"We have a duty to the student-athlete to make the sport safer," adds Brostrand. "The more universities work together, the better for all of our athletes."