Vision plays an important role in sports. Concussions, caused by injury while playing sports, can lead to vision problems that affect both athletics and academics. It is important to identify student athletes who sustain concussion when playing organized sports.
Young athletes are reluctant to acknowledge or admit that their function has been compromised because they want to continue to play. Athletes often think they have “just had their bell rung” and don’t realize the seriousness of the injury. It is common for student athletes who have had a concussion to then have problems with orientation, dizziness, and headaches. Those who sustain a first injury are at risk of suffering a second concussion because they have not yet recovered from the first. This ultimately affects their sports performance and more importantly, it affects learning and school success.
Student athletes who sustain a concussion can become confused with regard to time, space, and their orientation. Professional athletes who have sustained multiple concussions and brain injury have lifelong impacts that have been implicated in causing Parkinson’s Disease, Dementia, and Alzheimer's Disease. Concussion has been termed “mild” brain injury but the cumulative effects are considerably more than just “mild”. The effects are exponential rather than just additive. It affects the athlete’s visual function (double vision, blurred vision, dizziness, etc.) and therefore it affects cognition.
Baseline eye movement testing should be established in the pre-season so these same eye movement tests can be measured should there be an injury during play. This can be considerably more diagnostic than an MRI, since the injuries are often not apparent in imaging testing and may not be readily apparent at the time of injury. These tests can quickly and effectively determine if an athlete should be removed from play. The effects of a concussion may become apparent only well after the injury, similar to a muscle injury or a whiplash after a car accident that is noticed only days later. Eye movement testing can also serve as a gauge for return to play.
Student athletes are also at risk for learning problems after they sustain a concussion or brain injury. The vision system is compromised, but can be re-built through a program on neuro-optometric rehabilitation. This often has an even greater affect because it can then facilitate improvements from other therapies such as cognitive therapy, physical therapy, occupational therapy, neuro-psychology, etc.
Just as it is important to be able to determine if an athlete is physically ready to continue play, it is important to evaluate visual competence to learn after a sport-related injury, or even non-sports related injury. Athletic trainers and coaches, guidance counselor and teachers should be aware of the impact sports-related injuries have on academics as well as sports.
Sports vision therapy prior to competitive play enables the athlete to be more visually aware, react faster, and conceivably reduce injuries. It then helps athletes play better and be even more effective in sports.