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Sports Concussion

The physical demands of sports and recreational activities make athletes engaged in organized sports and even those “weekend warriors” susceptible to brain injuries. Although helmets and other athletic gear may reduce the degree of force to the head, they can never fully prevent a concussion.

The NorthShore Neurological Institute benefits from the leadership of nationally recognized experts in the area of brain injury and sports medicine who are experienced at assessing and treating athletes at all levels—from professional and collegiate to high school and youth sports. They work closely with a team's athletic training and medical staff to determine when athletes are safely able to return to their sports activities for practice and/or competitive play after a concussion.

NorthShore recently launched a comprehensive Concussion Clinic to best serve patients but especially athletes of all ages with head injuries. The clinic is based in the Park Center Health and Fitness facility in Glenview, offering a coordinated care experience tailored to your specific needs all in one convenient location. One of the few clinical services of its kind in the region, the clinic is led by two physicians fellowship-trained in sports neurology.

Other sports concussion specialists include sports medicine physicians, neuropsychologists and physiatrists. Many of our concussion experts have worked with elite athletes from Chicago professional teams—including the Bears, Blackhawks and Fire—as well as served as consultants to numerous high schools and colleges. They have vast experience assessing and treating concussions in sports resulting from myriad athletic endeavors, from traditionally heavy contact sports like football, hockey and soccer to basketball and swimming.

Diagnosis and Treatment for Concussions in Sports

Athletic trainers, coaches, parents, teammates and athletes all play important roles in concussion recognition. Early identification of potential head injury is essential so removal from play can occur for assessment by a trained professional. 

It is critically important to properly diagnose a concussion and ensure that athletes do not return to their sport or other vigorous activity too quickly as they may be at greater risk of a second concussion. This may place them at risk for worsening symptoms or prolonged recovery.

Neurological Institute experts rely on their clinical experience in conducting thorough diagnostic assessments. These assessments typically include cognitive testing, eye movement examinations and balance testing. Our concussion specialists may also use diagnostic imaging or more advanced forms of physical examination in collaboration with healthcare professionals in physical therapy or cognitive therapy. Our comprehensive clinic is available for athletic assesments when desired or needed.

Sports concussion treatment may vary, and our team of experts will personalize this recovery plan based on the individual case. We may recommend initially reducing activities that are bothersome, which may include screen time, school work, cognitive tasks and physical exertion during the early recovery period. These activities can be steadily re-introduced as symptoms allow. 

While new guidelines are supporting early introduction to cardio exercise as a way to speed recovery, our experts will oversee this medical recommendation safely to allow the brain to heal appropriately. This will help your athlete return to sport as safely and quickly as possible.

Sports Concussion Program Leadership

Our sports concussion program is led by the following brain injury experts:

Nicole Reams, MD, Director, Sports Concussion Program

Dr. Reams is a board-certified neurologist and one of the country’s first and few fellowship-trained sports neurologists. She has specialized training and experience in treating athletes with neurologic disorders and has a special interest in concussion.

Medical chair for the United States Intercollegiate Boxing Association, she serves a policy role and has gained ringside experience. She is the independent neurologic consultant for the Chicago Bears and Northwestern University Athletics; the unaffiliated neurotrauma consultant for the Chicago Bears and the team neurologist for the Rockford IceHogs and Indy Fuel. Dr. Reams additionally has consulted for the Chicago Blackhawks, Chicago Fire, Dominican University, Trinity International University, Northern Illinois University and many local high schools. This leading concussion expert has talked and served as a director for the American Academy of Neurology at its national meeting and Sport Concussion Conference for several years on the topics of concussion, post-concussion syndrome and CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy)/TES (transcranial electrical stimulation). Her research interests include multidisciplinary care for sports concussion and improving outcomes, clinical approaches to CTE, and pharmaceutical intervention for acute concussion and post-concussion syndrome.

Erik Beltran, MD, Sports Neurologist

Dr. Beltran is a board-certified neurologist fellowship trained in sports neurology. He specializes in the treatment of neurologic conditions in athletes from youth to professional levels, with a particular emphasis on concussion and athlete brain health. An independent neurologic consultant for Northwestern University, he has consulted for the Chicago Bears and Northern Illinois University.  He volunteers his time as the team neurologist for Stevenson High School Athletics in Lincolnshire to promote athlete brain health in his community. Dr. Beltran also serves as a ringside physician for USA Boxing. As a leading sports concussion expert, he has presented at national conferences including the American Academy of Neurology Fall Conference and the Big Sky Athletic Training Conference. His research interests include multidisciplinary care for sports concussion and improving clinical outcomes across the spectrum of concussion (acute, post-concussion syndrome and CTE).