Health & Fitness

Concussions, heat-related illness are concerns for local football coaches

Sports medicine is taken seriously on the high school football fields of Modesto. For two years, players have worn helmets with sensors telling if they are involved in collisions that might cause a concussion.

Heat exhaustion is another concern as teams hold workouts for the fall 2016 season.

Dr. Jonathan Pettegrew advised coaches and athletic directors Monday to have an action plan for heat-related illness, and to make sure athletes are properly hydrated.

Heat exhaustion claimed the life of Minnesota Vikings offensive tackle Korey Stringer, whose 2001 death led to an NFL review of training camp procedures. Stringer became dizzy and vomited multiple times during a practice held in intense heat and humidity; his body temperature reached 109 degrees before his death in a Minnesota hospital.

“If he had just been placed in an ice water bath, this would not have happened,” said Pettegrew, a specialist with the Stanislaus Orthopaedic and Sports Medicine Clinic.

Pettegrew was among the speakers at a sports medicine symposium held Monday at the DoubleTree Hotel. About 75 people attended the seminars and heard a talk by keynote speaker Rebekah Gregory, a survivor of the Boston Marathon bombing.

The doctor said football teams in the Central Valley should have chill zones and ice water baths available, should practice good hydration for players and watch for signs of heat-related illness. The symptoms include heavy sweating, faintness, dizziness, muscle cramps, nausea and headache.

Ideally, every high school in the area should have an athletic trainer, Pettegrew added.

Doctors Medical Center held the sports medicine seminars for the second straight year and also has stepped up its involvement with high school athletics by offering health screenings last week and providing sideline coverage at high school football games.

Tim Garcia, athletic director for Davis High School, said the sports medicine seminars are a great resource and the safety issues are taken seriously. He said directors use a website to monitor heat index readings.

Partly due to the NFL’s crisis with long-term effects of concussions, a computerized monitoring system costing hundred of thousands of dollars was implemented in Modesto City Schools. It’s believed to be the largest public school district in the state to use this type of system. The helmet sensors signal the coaching staff if players are leading with the head to make tackles, Garcia said.

Players are trained in techniques that “keep the head out of the tackle,” Garcia said. According to a game-night policy, student athletes are taken off the field and checked for signs of concussion if the system indicates they have sustained a head impact at levels that cause the injury.

Dr. Robert Barandica, whose son introduced the system to the school district, shared the latest medical advice in a seminar on recovering from a concussion. The protocol calls for cognitive rest, or lying in a dark room with no television, video games or anything else that stimulates the brain.

After a concussion, the brain is sensitive to further stimulus and injury, and it needs rest, the doctor explained.

Barandica, who provides sideline coverage at football games, pulled his son, Dominic, from Gregori High’s final game last season when the linebacker’s sensor went off. He said his son could not recall what he ate for lunch and was ordered to cognitive rest.

Other speakers at Monday’s symposium were Dr. Navneet Dullet, on sports medicine and cardiology; Rachel Sapper, a nutrition expert; and Danny Lehr, a physical therapy trainer who talked about strength and conditioning. Along with coaches and athletic directors, representatives of soccer teams and running clubs attended the symposium.

“In order for athletes to reach the next level, you need to lead them,” Lehr said.

Ken Carlson: 209-578-2321