Sanford Health and Augustana Univ. team up on concussions

"Not only can we contribute to this field of research, but hopefully we put tools in their hands to help care for student athletes."

By: Chad Curry .

Sanford Health is doing concussion research with the Augustana University football program
Sanford Health is doing concussion research with the Augustana University football program
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Sanford Health has expanded its concussion research by partnering with Augustana University’s football program to further develop the understanding of brain injuries in the sport.

“We are really blessed to have a partner like Sanford Health that is cutting edge on what is happening in the world throughout all medical exploration, but in particular, as it relates to us with concussions,” said Jerry Olszewski, head football coach for Augustana, who’s in his sixth year.

The relationship between the institutions in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, has led to concussion protocols and testing with the athletes.

Thayne Munce, Ph.D., an Augustana alum and sports science researcher at the Sanford Sports Science Institute, has spearheaded the concussion research program for Sanford Health over several years with youth football in Sioux Falls. He looks forward to expanding his work using collegiate athletes, as well.

“It’s amazing to have a partner like Augie that welcomes us on the athletic field and in the training room to perform our research and help improve our understanding and knowledge of these injuries. Not only can we contribute to this field of research, but hopefully we put tools in their hands to help care for student athletes who have experienced a concussion,” Dr. Munce said.

Part of a bigger concussion discussion

The national conversation surrounding concussions and player safety is slowly shifting and has affected every level of the game. From education of players, parents, coaches, officials and even broadcasters, the language surrounding brain trauma in the sport has become more sensitive.

“There has been a pretty drastic change in a very short period of time for players to police themselves on head injuries. We have seen a rise in other player’s pointing those things out about their teammates more than the individuals themselves,” Olszewski said.

“We have come a long way in advancing concussion education,” Dr. Munce added. “For players to know that they can stick up for their teammates and speak up if they notice there’s something off is a big step in the collective educational process.”

In addition to advancing education about concussions, Sanford Health researchers have developed better ways to get players back on the field.

“There have been a couple big changes in the return-to-play protocol for concussions,” Dr. Munce said. “One of these changes is the use of more objective measures for concussion severity and recovery. Things like balance and reaction time allow us to see how the brain is actually working.”

Days of the cocoon approach are long gone. Having to stay in a room with no lights, sound, human interaction or physical activity is becoming concussion protocol of the past. Concussion research shows that introducing the athlete to physical activity has greatly increased the athlete’s chances of a speedy recovery and allows them to be around other players.

The sport of football in itself still carries some risk, but the education around the game has greatly helped medical staff, coaches and players handle these injuries with more information than we’ve ever had.

Sports medicine provider

The research agreement builds on a relationship Augustana University already has with Sanford Health as its exclusive sports medicine provider. Other colleges supported by the health system include:

  • North Dakota State University
  • South Dakota State University
  • University of Sioux Falls
  • Bemidji State University
  • Minnesota State University Moorhead
  • Northern State University
  • Concordia College
  • Dickinson State University
  • Mayville State University
  • Valley City State University
  • Bismarck State College
  • North Dakota State College of Science
  • Northland Community & Technical College-Thief River Falls
  • United Tribes Technical College