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Staff Photo by GRANT MORRIS

Amanda Canning tapes up Spencer Rancourt at Nashua High School North, Thursday afternoon. Canning suffered a concussion in a snowboarding accident recently giving her a new insight into what it's like and how to treat a concussion.
Sunday, April 1, 2012

For Nashua trainer, education was silver lining to concussion

Since joining the staff at Performance Rehab Inc. and becoming the athletic trainer at Nashua North High School six years ago, Amanda Canning has kept up on the latest methods of diagnosing and treating sports related concussions. She helped evaluate athletes last spring when the school began impact testing, and continues to as the Nashua schools expand that program.

In January, Canning gained a different perspective on concussions, suffering one herself. During an afternoon of snowboarding at Gunstock Mountain in Gilford, Canning approached a trail juncture when an accident occurred. She still doesn’t remember the exact details.

According to friends, another snow boarder went off a jump and, still airborne, slammed into Canning’s chest, knocking her to the slope. The back of her head hit and Canning lost consciousness for a minute or so.

It isn’t like she doesn’t know her way around a mountain. Canning, 28, grew up in Sunapee and started skiing at age 3. But it was only in the last year or so that she began wearing a helmet. She is convinced that saved her from a much more serious injury, a more severe concussion or even a skull fracture.

“I definitely think that the helmet was very beneficial,’’ Canning said. “I was an experienced snow boarder and skier and never thought I needed one, but I got one for Christmas last year and decided to wear it.’’

There was no doubt about the diagnosis when she arrived at an emergency room in Laconia.

“The ski patrol was awesome,’’ Canning said. “Because the neck pain and because I had been knocked unconscious they suggested I get checked out.

“I didn’t really want to, but I knew if it was one of my kids I would have told them the same thing – ‘Go to the hospital, get checked out, get a CT scan.’ ‘’

The scan indicated no internal bleeding and Canning was released, but told not to drive and to relax for a few days. She came back to work a few days later, perhaps a little too soon.

“Work was great and the coaches here were awesome, very understanding,’’ Canning said. “Everybody pitched in and helped out.’’

Still, Canning wasn’t anywhere close to 100 percent. She suffered headaches and confusion.

“My symptoms would worsen during the day,’’ Canning said, “the more activity I’d do, the worse it would get.

“It was pretty much everything I’d expected. It didn’t make it easier, having all that knowledge, but I knew what to look for.’’

Canning spent a quiet weekend at her parent’s house in Sunapee. She returned to work again but felt it took about three weeks to fully recover.

Like any good concussion patient, Canning got back into physical activities gradually, first on a stationary bike, then some light jogging.

“It was pretty much what I tell my athletes,’’ Canning said. “Full rest until you’re not feeling symptoms.’’

Those symptoms – at their worst – included headaches, bouts of nausea, dizzy spells and blurred vision, not to mention the cognitive issues.

“I just felt I was in a fog,’’ Canning said. “Nothing was entirely clear, although I knew where I was and knew what I was doing.’’

It was nothing anyone would choose to experience, but Canning, as atrainer, took something from the experience.

“I think I can sympathize with my athletes a little more,’’ Canning said, “based on my experience. My kids knew what I went through and probably take my advice a little more to heart.’’

Things like telling kids, right after a concussion, not to watch television.

“Your brain has to focus on the sound, the picture and also relating to the content,’’ Canning said. “Processing all that information makes the brain work harder and you start to develop symptoms.’’

And, as Canning knows, returning to school doesn’t make a student recovering from a concussion 100 percent ready for a normal routine.

“It’s not only important to have the support at home,’’ Canning said, “but teachers have to realize they might have a little trouble keeping up.

“We try to communicate to the teachers and nurses that they might not be able to do some work, to take tests, for a certain period of time.’’

Canning said the vast majority of teachers understand and make allowances for students returning to school after suffering a head injury.

Lacrosse goalkeeper Spencer Rancourt, who also plays football, took the impact test last spring.

“It helps to get players healthy quicker and back on the field,’’ Rancourt said, while having his wrists tapped by Canning before a practice last week.

It’s an attitude many athletes share.

“It’s not about getting people back quicker,’’ Canning said. “It’s about making sure they are safe to go back.’’

In her field, concussions are something Canning deals with on a regular basis. She estimated about 30 athletes suffered one at North within the last year.

Concussions don’t usually help you understand something better. But in Canning’s case, experiencing one first hand might have.