UNC is internationally known for its research on sports-related concussions, led by Dr. Kevin Guskiewicz, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, and Dr. Jason Mihalik, Associate Professor of Athletic Training. However, the way this research has influenced hands-on clinics for professional and amateur athletes who have experienced concussions is a part of UNC’s portfolio that we often do not hear about.
Dr. Kevin Carneiro, a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine and Physiatrist (rehabilitation doctor), came to UNC Hospitals to apply his expertise in the central nervous system and musculoskeletal system as a spine physician. Over time, his holistic approach to patient care—a core concept in his osteopathy training—drew him to work with patients who have experienced traumatic brain injuries (TBI), typically concussions.
As a member of the Center for the Study of Retired Athletes (CSRA) clinical research team, Dr. Carneiro is applying this approach in a unique partnership between UNC and the NFL Players Association. CRSA and the NFL Players Association began working together in 2001 to understand and address the physical and mental challenges that former NFL players face.
Through programming designed by the CRSA, the Department of Neurology and the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, former professional football players with health concerns come to UNC to receive a two-day “head to toe” evaluation. Typically, these former athletes have pain that has led to lifestyle changes and psychological problems, chronic headaches and other post-concussion symptoms, or increased episodes of sadness, irritability or depression. The comprehensive evaluation helps the athlete understand his current health status and, if needed, options for treatment. The Center’s Brain and Body Health Program serves former NFL players who have been out of the professional sport for less than 15 years, while its Milestone Wellness Assessment serves those players who have been away from the NFL more than 15 years.
With nearly four million concussions occurring in the United States each year, the diagnosis techniques and treatment options developed by the Brain and Body Health Program and Milestone Wellness Assessment have the potential to improve health outcomes of a population much broader than former professional football players. We already see this at work through UNC’s Matthew Gfellar Sport-Related TBI Research Center, where Dr. Carneiro and other members of the CRSA clinical care team also serve as faculty. Matthew Gfellar Center programming includes working with middle and high school athletes and members of the military who have had concussions.
Dr. Carneiro is particularly excited about the opportunity to continue and expand work with North Carolina’s large military population, providing comprehensive diagnostics and treatment options for what are considered the most common and least understood military injuries. He hopes that continued investment in UNC’s concussion clinics will make this a reality.