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Chris White: UGA’s Courson shares wealth of his work

Ron Courson says he didn’t get into sports medicine for lofty appointments or recognition.

Georgia’s director of sports medicine did find those things in the field, but it was the hands-on work that has always interested him.

“I just wanted to make a difference,” Courson said. “I think that’s why most people get into the medical field, to make a difference.”

His efforts haven’t gone unnoticed. Courson, who has been with the UGA Athletic Association since 1995, has long been a national figure in sports medicine, serving as the chairman of several sports medicine committees including the Southeastern Conference’s and National Athletic Trainer’s Association’s college and university group, worked as a liaison for the American Football Coaches Association and is a current member of the NFL Health Safety Committee.

“We’re blessed at Georgia in that we get a tremendous amount of resources and great people to work with, and they give me freedom to get involved in some national things, like the NCAA and other national organizations, and I enjoy it,” Courson said.

The list is longer than that as his resume reads like a list of influential sports medicine organizations. That’s not to mention his work with Olympic teams and at other world-championship events. And just a week ago, Courson was honored by the University of Connecticut Korey Stringer Institute’s KSI Lifesaving Awards for his contributions to preventing sudden death in sports.

To say it simply, Courson knows what he’s talking about. And he said he likes to share that knowledge whenever he can.

In that spirit, he assembled on Wednesday a presentation for reporters with the athletic association’s head trauma experts, who covered the state of their concussion prevention, diagnosis and treatment program.

The approach is personalized. Athletes take computerized tests of cognitive ability and physical skills, such as balance, so that their baseline scores can be used to diagnose and grade an injury. Another portion of it handles ensuring a culture of honesty surrounds the athletes, many of whom must self-report an injury like a concussion that they know could keep them from sports for weeks if not months in some cases.

None of it is necessarily new – the program began about eight years ago and was refined to its current state about two years ago – but it was conducted with the intent to pass on some knowledge, even if just to a group of reporters who will never see an athlete’s medical file let alone need to diagnose a head trauma. The more you know, the more we all know, Courson said.

“I think there are some misconceptions about concussions,” Courson said. “We do have an active research program in sports concussions at the University of Georgia. Our goal is to evaluate current evaluation techniques, current treatment protocols, and try to improve them as we get a better understanding of brain injury.”

And when it comes to concussions, we could all use a little more knowledge because it can be a scary field.

Head injuries can happen to anyone — Georgia’s cheerleaders are more frequently diagnosed than the football players, one of the panelists said Wednesday, and amateur and recreational athletes are just as at risk. And once there is an injury, doctors can’t simply poke around in the brain looking for an issue to patch up. Concussions come fast, they’re unexpected and the damage can be severe and accumulate.

Some researchers believe there may be a connection between head injuries such as concussions and conditions like dementia or chronic traumatic encephalopathy, known as CTE, which has been diagnosed in the brain samples of several high-profile athletes who suffered head injuries. Although, there has yet to be a causal relationship established, neurosurgeon Kim Walpert pointed out Wednesday. For now, fear is not yet a worthy replacement for good equipment, strong medical advice and ever better athletic techniques.

But until there are definitive answers — and it is unlikely there ever will be when it comes to head trauma — Courson said he’ll keep giving back all he can contribute to a field that he said has given so many opportunities.

“I’ve learned a lot (from sports medicine), and hopefully I’ve been able to share some of that information,” Courson said. “But I think I’ve learned a whole more than I’ll ever be able to share.”

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