Jim Chesnutt, M.D.
Medical Director, OHSU Sports Medicine Program
Through the Oregon Concussion Awareness and Management Program, OHSU's Jim Chestnutt and others, including physical therapist Jennifer Wilhelm (left), help students athletes such as Jamie Worth, recover from concussions.
// Photo by Joseph Eastburn
The National Football League isn’t the only entity taking concussions more seriously these days. Researchers at Oregon Health & Science University have been hitting concussions head-on in an effort to help student athletes stay safer on — and off — the field.
“We’ve made a huge difference in how Oregon treats concussions and coordinates care of athletes from their time of injury until they’re back in school,” says Jim Chesnutt, M.D., medical director of the OHSU Sports Medicine Program, which sees between 30 and 40 new or returning concussion patients weekly.
Since 1995, Chesnutt has been helping schools implement concussion management programs. In 2009 he helped champion the passage of “Max’s Law,” which requires annual concussion education for coaches and bars athletes from returning to an activity on the same day of an injury.
Researchers at OHSU have been using computerized testing of student athletes to evaluate them before an injury; that data can then be used after an injury to see how brain activity has been affected. Additionally, OHSU has developed an innovative balance test that helps more accurately identify concussions.
Chesnutt says the work at OHSU will continue to inform concussion management programs for student athletes. One study found that students at schools with concussion management programs returned to school two to three days earlier than those at schools without them. The other piece of the puzzle will be advocating for rule changes and better enforcement of existing rules, such as the no helmet-to-helmet contact rule.
“I’d say we really are out in the front of a lot of this,” Chesnutt says.
"We estimate that there are about 2,000 sports-related concussions a year in [Oregon] high school students. It's a pretty prevalent problem."