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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.

Many of our sports concussion specialists, including neurologists, sports medicine physicians, neuropsychologists and physiatrists, have worked with elite athletes from Chicago professional teams—including the Bears, Blackhawks, White Sox and Fire—as well as served as consultants to 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

In most cases, athletes who sustain a concussion are not knocked out; they often remain awake and continue talking normally. Parents are advised to watch children in both practice and game situations for any particularly hard hits or collisions with another athlete, the ground and/or objects.

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, using advanced CT and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technologies when needed. Our sports concussion specialists may also use a variety of functional and neuropsychological tests to measure cognitive changes after a concussive injury.

Sports concussion treatment may vary, and our team of experts will personalize this recovery plan based on the individual case. We often recommend taking a break from physical exertion and taxing cognitive activities such as video games or watching television until symptoms improve. Along with this gradual return to normal physical and cognitive activities, our team may also recommend working with a physical therapist and/or exploring medical therapies.

Sports Concussion Program Leadership

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

Julian Bailes, MD, Director, Sports Concussion Program

Dr. Bailes is a leading traumatic brain injury expert, chairman of neurosurgery at NorthShore and co-director of the Neurological Institute. He has been a neurological consultant to the NFL Players’ Association (NFLPA), which has supported research on the effects of head injuries on retired professional athletes. He is the medical director of the Center for the Study of Retired Athletes based at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill; medical director of Pop Warner Football; and an adviser to the NCAA.

Nicole Reams, MD, Section Head, Sports Concussion Program 

Dr. Reams is a board-certified neurologist and one of the country’s few fellowship-trained Sports Neurologists.  She has specialized training and experience in treating athletes with neurologic disorders and has a special interest in concussion.  She was the former team physician for Eastern Michigan University.

Dr. Reams currently serves as the medical chair for United States Intercollegiate Boxing Association, an independent neurologic consultant for Northwestern University athletics, and a consultant for the women’s contact football team, Chicago Force. She has spoken at several national meetings on the topics of Sports Concussion, Post-concussion Syndrome, and Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy.  Dr. Reams sees athletes at all levels of play and provides consultation to numerous local high schools, colleges and professional sports teams.

Carrie A. Jaworski, MD,  Director, Division of Primary Care Sports Medicine

A nationally recognized leader in Sports Medicine, Dr. Jaworski has spent nearly two decades treating athletes of all ages and abilities as well as teaching many of the sports medicine physicians in the community about both sports medicine and concussions.

Dr. Jaworski is the Director of the University of Chicago/NorthShore Primary Care Sports Medicine Fellowship and she previously served as Director of Intercollegiate Sports Medicine and Head Team Physician at Northwestern University.  She was elected as Vice President of the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), is Chair of ACSM’s Project Play Committee which works on encouraging safe physical activity in kids and is the ACSM liaison to the National Federation of High School Sports. She volunteers as a Team Physician for Evanston, New Trier and Loyola Academy High Schools.