Heads Up

They Use Their Noodle to Protect Your Noggin

Concussion research leads to improved response on playing field

R.J. Elbin and his graduate students work to protect the health of young athletes in a two-fold way. They work with medical personnel to collect data about young athletes’ recovery from concussions, and their research focuses on teaching people involved in youth sports how to recognize concussions.

Elbin, assistant professor of exercise science, directs the Office for Sport Concussion Research at the University of Arkansas. He knows firsthand about concussions from his days as a high school football player and college baseball player.

“In addition to sustaining a few concussions as a former athlete, I also coached at the youth and high school levels and saw how serious concussions can be,” Elbin says. “Concussions can have a major impact on athletes – not only on the field or court, but also in the classroom – and negatively affect their personal lives with family and friends.

“The most dangerous concussion is one that is undetected or unreported and mismanaged,” he continues. “Programs that increase education and awareness about the signs and symptoms of concussion are an important first step. I hope my research will help improve the standard of medical care and improve recovery outcomes for athletes with concussions.”

Tom Smith, dean of the College of Education and Health Professions, describes the Office for Sport Concussion Research as a first step toward the University of Arkansas taking a leadership role in a field that is of critical importance to the health and well being of athletes of all ages.

“Dr. Elbin worked with some of the nation’s leading concussion researchers at Michigan State University and the University of Pittsburgh before he joined our faculty in August,” Smith said. “An important piece of Dr. Elbin’s work is to educate parents and others to recognize the signs and symptoms of concussions.”

Studies looking at the effectiveness of concussion-education programs have been promising, Elbin said, and he wants to expand on those studies in Northwest Arkansas and across the state.

Elbin and his students are working with local high schools, youth sports organizations and medical institutions on various concussion projects, and he plans to create new partnerships. Three authorities on concussions – Ramon Ylanan of Advanced Orthopaedic Specialists and the Razorback sports medicine team, Damon Lipinski of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences and Darrell Nesmith of Arkansas Children’s Hospital in Little Rock – are serving on a Scientific and Clinical Advisory Board at Elbin’s invitation and providing their clinical expertise.

The Office for Sport Concussion Research will create a system to track concussions in youth, high school and college sports and work with schools and other groups to be sure they have concussion policies in place that follow accepted standards.

“Using cutting-edge research and clinical tools, we will be able to document the short- and long-term effects of concussion,” Elbin said. “That will allow us to track recovery outcomes from this injury, and we will use this data to publish research and compete for funding to do more. This office will also help connect professionals who treat sport-related concussions and can work with us on this research. The ultimate goal is to make advances in detecting, managing and treating concussions.”

Elbin received a doctorate in kinesiology from Michigan State University, and he held a post-doctoral research fellowship at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Sports Medicine Concussion Program. The Pittsburgh program was the first of its kind when it was started in 2000. It remains the largest such program and is considered an international leader in concussion research.