Finally! Public awareness that sports-related head injury can lead to serious cognitive and neurological deficits is reaching critical mass. Although in government hearings, committee meetings and conferences, media reports, and even some athletic organizations are doing a lot of talking about the nature of head injury, its definition (concussion, mild- moderate- severe traumatic brain injury, CTE, etc.), ways to measure the degree of injury, and an extensive rehash of standard approaches to “treatment.” That is where the problem lies. The status quo treatment for decades has been “watchful waiting,” rest, and retesting to determine when it is safe to “return to play.” The conversation does not address healing. This, in spite of a readily available therapy that has shown extraordinary promise and success worldwide, and is being adopted (often out of sight) by professional athletes and team across the country. The treatment is Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT).
HBOT has been used to treat myriad types of wounds and illnesses for more than 100 years. It is a proven, safe and effective method of promoting healing, reducing inflammation and promoting improved neurological and circulatory function. Although it has yet to be approved specifically for concussion, there is a large body of basic research and published studies that show its effectiveness in treating head injury. In fact, a major study done in Israel provided the foundation for the decision by the Israeli Defense Ministry to establish HBOT as a first choice of therapy for any head injury.
We at Bethesda Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (which is a service of the Translational Medicine Group, P.C.) have been involved for more than four years in providing HBOT therapy to head-injured veterans, and have had very positive results. We helped organize and participated in an observational study of these types of injuries being treated with HBOT in clinics around the country. The results of that study will be published in the near future, but the bottom line of that work shows that HBOT is effective. We were instrumental in organizing a national consortium of private HBOT providers who have treated a total of more than 1,900 veterans and professional athletes with head injuries ranging from a single blast wave or head trauma, to multiple concussions over periods of years. Nearly all of these individuals have experienced significant improvement. Some Special Operations service members who were scheduled for release from military duty due to their injuries, have returned to active duty.
It is our view that any young person who suffers a blow to the head and displays any of the symptoms of concussion, be evaluated for HBOT therapy. This is true within days or even years of the injury. There is no excuse for waiting to see how bad the damage is and then waiting to see how long it takes to get better. We are excited about all the new research and conversation that is being directed at this national epidemic, and we are willing to wait for better diagnostic tools and even bio-markers (blood tests) that may help diagnose concussion. But we see no reason to wait years for those developments when we have at hand a treatment that actually repairs and promotes healing of the injury TODAY.