Athletes at a growing number of high schools are getting the same concussion protection as the Pittsburgh Steelers, Pirates and Indy car drivers.

The ImPACT concussion evaluation helps athletic trainers and coaches know when an injured player can safely return to action, said Andy Rush, director of outpatient physical therapy and sports medicine at Somerset Hospital.

Developed by Pitt researcher Mark Lovell, ImPACT stands for Immediate Postconcussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing. It is based on a test measuring cognitive functions like response time and short-term memory.

“Then we have a baseline for normal, to determine the level of disturbance in the brain (after injury),” Rush said.

Injured players are retested and can’t return to action until their test scores return to normal.

The idea is to prevent severe brain damage associated with second impact following a concussion, or metabolic disturbance in the brain, Rush said.

“Any blow to the head can cause this,” he said. “If he returns to action before the brain heals, it can be devastating.”

Some estimates show the mortality rate for second impact syndrome as high as 50 percent.

“It’s been a great resource, a great tool for our athletes,” Rockwood schools Athletic Director Misty Demchak said.

Players don’t always recognize the danger and want to get back in the game too soon, Demchak said.

“Their hearts are in the game,” she said. “They don’t feel sick, and it’s an injury you can’t see.”

That is the idea behind the test.

“We know a lot of times the athlete would tell us they are fine, when really they are not, because they want to play,” Lovell said. “This gives everybody a much more objective way of looking at concussions.”

It’s a lot of work to get everyone tested up front, Meyersdale schools Athletic Director Craig Gindlesperger said, adding that the results are beneficial.

“We have already put it to use a couple of times in camp,” he said. “It’s a nice tool showing us if the player really is, or is not ready.”

The ImPACT system bypasses the common grading system to rate concussions’ severity, Rush said.

“You either have a concussion, or you don’t,” Rush said.

A growing number of area schools have expressed interest in the ImPACT program, in part because of lawsuit fears if they don’t, he said.

“It’s a huge liability for coaches and athletic trainers if they release (athletes) before they are healed,” Rush said. “We’ve had positive impact from parents, educators and coaches.”

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