New research shapes UM concussion protocol


MISSOULA, Mont. - On Tuesday, the NCAA agreed to set up a $70 million fund to diagnosis and treat head injuries for athletes. A judge still has to sign off on the deal.

The deal applies to student athletes in all sports at schools regulated by the NCAA at any time in the past and up to 50 years in the future. It also provides funding for research and a medical monitoring system.

The suit was first filed in 2011 for a former Eastern Illinois football player. He said he has headaches and seizures as a result of five documented concussions.

What does the settlement mean for student athletes at the University of Montana? The University of Montana is proactive about diagnosing and treating concussions. NBC Montana found some cutting edge research being done for the NFL. What happens in Missoula, it appears, could change policies in the future.

Head Athletic Trainer JC Weida showed NBC Montana the Rhinehart Athletic Training Center for athletes at the University of Montana full of rehab equipment, a therapy pool and a cardio balance area.

"It's used by all athletes," said Weida.

But trainers treat more than pulled muscles and other injuries. Weida says they treat about 10 to 15 concussions per year and explains that the university has a comprehensive protocol for treating concussions. It's checked every year and changed often.

"Research is important because it's what changes policy," said Weida.

While the NCAA concussion settlement may change things at some universities, Weida figures the University of Montana is already good.

"I would be surprised if ours was that much out of whack," said Weida.

NBC Montana found out what the UM does. There's a baseline test prior to the season's start.

A head injury means no play no practice for 24 hours. For ages 18 to 23, recovery can range from a day to a week.

The university is not only aggressive in its approach to treating head trauma, its scientists are on the cutting edge of traumatic brain injury research.

A picture from UM scientists shows an animal's brain. The red stain shows a critical protein that protects the brain from injury and that protein disappears after a concussion.

"We can just look at these biomarker results and just say 'This person has severe TBI' and 'This person has a mild TBI' without even assessing them in any other way," said University of Montana Assistant Research Professor Tom Rau.

The research that the UM is conducting will likely affect what happens in the Rhinehart Athletic Training Center, where trainers help university athletes compete and stay healthy.

The NCAA settlement says that all players, coaches and trainers will receive concussion education. Doctors trained in concussion diagnosis will have to be present for sports like football, soccer and basketball.