Can training the eyes help prevent concussions?

Can training the eyes help prevent concussions?

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Can training the eyes help prevent concussions?

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In the past five years, WKYC has devoted more air time and digital space to the issue of concussions than any other youth health story.

The issue also remains the number one concern among parents of young athletes.

No piece of equipment, technique or exercise has been found to prevent concussions, but a form of exercise is showing promise in athletic programs like the University of Cincinnati and Ohio State.

MORE COVERAGE: Complete concussion coverage

From 2006 to 2009, the University of Cincinnati Bearcat football team averaged about nine concussions a year.

Coaches and medical staff sought a way to bring down those numbers.

They heard about a program in use by the Air Force Academy. Pilots were using a “light board” to strengthen and improve their peripheral zone of vision.

This training helps them in aerial dogfighting attacks and brings up their skill levels.

The University of Cincinnati began using a

Dynavision

light board on its football players, but for a different reason.

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“When you look at the field of vision, you have natural blind spots. And those blind spots happen to be in an area where in the field of play it could be dangerous for our kids,” explained Bob Mangine, the University of Cincinnati Senior Associate Athletic Director. “Over the last 5 seasons, we’ve now trained with the Dynavision system and quite honestly our concussion rate has dropped significantly. So we feel firmly that improved visual peripheral field has allowed our kids to either avoid the injury or has actually been able to put them in a more positive position, so as not to take a hit that could end up resulting in them getting a concussion.”

From 2010 to this most recent season, the Bearcats’ average concussion rate has dropped below two a year.

Players train on the Dynavision D2 light board not only during the season, but throughout the off season as well. Bearcat baseball players use it now too, and their batting averages have gone up. The Ohio State Buckeyes also use the vision board.

Visual acuity training is not just for elite athletes. Diane Salettel, a kettlebell instructor and certified Z-Health Movement Coach, preaches and teaches the benefits of visual training at her studio.

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She says it’s not just for athletes to improve performance and help prevent injury, but it can help alleviate pain as well.

“The better you see, the better you move,” Salettel explained.

As we visited her Chagrin Falls studio, Salettel put Monica Robins through some of the exercises she does with her clients.

First she measured how far Monica could twist her upper body. Then it was a series of visual exercises that helped measure depth perception.

“If one of the eyes drift in or out, the athlete is more likely of either undershooting or overshooting their target,” she explained.

Another test looked at peripheral awareness, key for athletes who play contact sports.

It answers “How well can you see what you’re not looking at?”

READ MORE: Helmet ratings: Four questions every parent should ask

The test involved putting two pieces of spaghetti into a straw without looking down. Monica performed poorly on the first attempt.

Salettel had her perform another peripheral test and try again. She fared much better the second time.

After the visual exercises, Monica’s range of motion improved too.

“Pretty much, what we did was we created a clearer map in your brain,” Salettel explained.

More research is needed, but visual training is catching on in sports at the youth level, in college and beyond. The hope is that by seeing the field of play in a different light, more athletes will be able to stay in the game.

To learn more about Z-Health you can reach Diane Salettel at (440) 382-1059 or email flexappealdiane@msn.com.

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