Preventative Brain Assessments and Training for Gymnasts
BASELINE TESTING = FUNCTION ASSESSEMENT
Baseline testing provides information about the function of different aspects of your brain. Knowing what level of function a gymnast was prior to an injury, gives a comparison point. Many gymnasts may have functional deficits without symptoms prior to an injury. In the event of a concussion any functional deficits noted on examination that were not previously known to have existed, will be incorrectly attributed to the recent injury. Basic ImPACT baselines are an absolute must and a deeper understanding of how well your brain is functioning can be determined with a comprehensive evaluation.
PERFORMANCE = PREVENTION
How your brain is functioning not only will determine how well you perform but will also impact your ability to avoid injuries. Peripheral vision, balance and reaction time are all functions of your brain that when functioning at an optimal level, can help you avoid injury.
All things being equal, a higher functioning brain should give you a better outcome in the event of a traumatic brain injury. The research suggests that in the event of a concussion, anybody with ADHD or dyslexia has a worse prognosis than somebody without this neurobehavioral state. Simply put, if an area of brain has functional challenges pre-injury and this area is concussed, the outcome or prognosis will be worse.
Given that the research supports this for ADHD and dyslexia, it is potentially true for any other region of the brain with diminished function. Therefore, the logical thing to do is to ensure that we maximize the functional integrity of as many aspects of brain as possible.
Given the high incidence of concussions in gymnastics and the serious long term consequences of concussions, it is time that a new approach is taken. The new approach considers “function” of brain performance and not just symptoms. Just because symptoms have resolved, does not mean brain function has been restored.
FUNCTION = PERFORMANCE
VISUAL FUNCTION is essential for any gymnast. It only takes a split second of distraction to cause you to miss the bar or the beam and fall. When your mind wanders, your eyes also wander. If your mind is locked in, your eyes will be locked in. The more your eyes are locked on to the target, the better you will be able to grab the bar or hit your landing. Quick eye movements, eye tracking and visual fixation are all visual functions that are governed by your brain and can be the difference between a perfect 10 and a career ending injury. These visual functions can tested and improved upon within weeks.
The FOCUS that is essential for all gymnasts, can be increased with brain based exercises. Under pressure your brain focus can decrease and the number of distractions will increase. The movement of the spectators or other competitors, the crowd noise, a flickering light and a host of other factors can distract a gymnast. The slightest sound or movement can cause your eyes to come off the target and result in a fall. Impulse control and your ability to attend, is key to not only determining your performance level but also in helping prevent a serious injury.
A gymnast’s footwork on the beam or floor is a dance that requires RHYTHM AND TIMING. Rhythm and timing are governed by your brain. The coordination, speed and quickness of your feet are dependent on the functional level of your brain.
Perfect BALANCE is imperative to any gymnast. One could say that without balance, you can’t really compete. How quickly a gymnast can sprint, turn, how high they can jump or land a dismount, is fully dependent on brain functions associated with balance (i.e. vestibular system). Ideal balance can be measured, tracked and trained with our advanced technologies.
Balance function also relates to stability of your spine, knees and ankles. Injury prevention starts with perfect balance. Balance with your head and body in all positions is important for neck stability and consequently concussion prevention.
Motor functions are developed through repetition. You develop these built in motor programs through practice. However, the area of your brain that holds these motor programs is governed, controlled or initiated by other frontal cortex areas. MOTOR PLANNING, MOTOR SEQUENCING, MOTOR INITIATION is the difference between winning gold and a disappointing defeat.
In the end, when we are talking about concussions, prevention, performance or brain training, it isn’t an either or situation but rather a continuum of care: