Back to Top Skip to main content Skip to sub-navigation

Tackling Concussions: NCAA-DOD CARE Consortium Battles Brain Injuries

Image of Naval Academy football team runs onto the field . The U.S. Naval Academy football team runs onto the field during the annual Army-Navy football game held at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, Dec. 11. Navy student-athletes are part of an ongoing concussion study being conducted by the joint NCAA-DOD CARE Consortium (Photo by Navy Chief Petty Officer Diana Quinlan, Navy Recruiting Command).

Recommended Content:

Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences | Traumatic Brain Injury | Medical Research and Development

At colleges and universities across the country, there are nearly a half million student-athletes competing in National Collegiate Athletic Association sports during any given year.

As the NCAA often reminds its fans: "Most of them will go pro in something other than sports."

For a small cross section of college athletes from the four military service academies, they know exactly what they're "going pro" in – after graduation, they will become officers in the U.S. military.

Since 2014, the Department of Defense and the NCAA have been working together as part of the NCAA-DOD Concussion Assessment, Research and Education (CARE) Consortium, which brought over thirty colleges and universities together, including the four military service academies, to conduct the largest research study of its type to better understand the effects of concussions and repetitive head impact exposure on the brain health of student-athletes.

"To date, the CARE consortium has enrolled over 50,000 student athletes, with nearly 6,000 sustaining a concussion. By following these individuals before and after injury, researchers within the consortium have been able to advance our scientific knowledge of brain injury and the factors that influence outcomes," said Dr. Paul Pasquina, chair of the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences and chief of the Department of Rehabilitation at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.

Pasquina recently discussed CARE along with Dr. Terry Rauch, director of medical research and development at the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs, and NCAA Chief Medical Officer Dr. Brian Hainline on the NCAA's podcast "Social Series."

Surprisingly, Rauch said, data shows that many service members' head injuries actually occur in situations outside of combat.

"With respect to head injuries within the military, not only do we think about the deployed force, such as in Afghanistan and Iraq, but a lot of our head injuries occur in garrison or in training," he said. This includes contact and non-contact sports and off-duty accidents.

Pasquina, a former West Point football player, said the study holds a personal meaning to him. "I sustained several concussions myself, as did many of my classmates," he said, "and now as a physician, caring for individuals with brain injury, I remain very committed to optimizing the care for these patients."

"Since 9/11, I've had the privilege, but also the responsibility, of taking care of numerous service members who have sustained blast-related brain injuries, as well as impact-related brain injuries."

Distinguishing between the two types of head injuries can become difficult, as many happen in combination. Moreover, according to Pasquina, "many of the service members that sustain a blast injury have a prior history of playing contact sports or even sustaining previous concussion."

Through the CARE partnership, the DOD and NCAA have gained a better understanding of the biological and the physiological effects of concussions, the symptoms they present and the natural course of recovery.

CARE is the first major concussion study to assess both women and men, across 24 sports. Prior to CARE, most concussion literature came primarily from men's football and men's ice hockey. Leveraging an extensive infrastructure and experienced research team, the consortium has published more than 80 scientific papers advancing the science of mild traumatic brain injury, concussions and head impact exposure.

Pasquina's role has involved coordinating engagement at the four military service academies. During the next phase of the study, this engagement will expand to the military's Explosive Ordnance and Disposal school at Eglin Air Force Base, as well as the Defense Health Agency's National Intrepid Center of Excellence for TBI and Intrepid Spirit Centers at Fort Hood, Fort Bragg, and Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

"For the Department of Defense and for the NCAA, it's all about protecting and promoting the health of our service members and student-athletes, both during and after their time of service or athletic careers," Pasquina said.

"We really care about the health of our young men and women who are wearing the uniform and defending this nation," he said. "And on the NCAA side, they really do care about the health and welfare of their athletes, not just for the short-term while they're at the university, but for the long-term as well."

The improved understanding of head injuries has reduced the traditional tendency to tell athletes to push through a potential concussion, or for the athletes themselves feeling that they should.

"Everybody recovers at a different rate, and while the majority of individuals will have their symptoms resolve within one to two weeks, up to 20% many have persistent symptoms beyond 28 days, which needs to be more widely recognized," according to Pasquina.

"Over the past several years, there's been a real paradigm shift in the care of individuals with brain injury, and we hope that the knowledge gained from this study will help inform service members and athletes at all levels, whether playing varsity sports, club sports, or at the high-school or 'pee-wee' level," Pasquina said.

Due to this collaboration, the military and sports medicine communities have worked together in developing concussion care protocols.

"Dr. Hainline has done a ton of work, informing leadership throughout the NCAA including coaches, about the risks, mitigation strategies, and treatments involving concussion, and we have done the same thing on the military side by educating not only our providers, but squad leaders, company commanders, and military commanders across the DOD," said Pasquina.

Ideally, future military leaders currently attending service academies and involved in this study will be able to recognize concussions among the ranks.

"Being involved in this concussion study makes them aware of the importance of recognizing concussion in the soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines that they will lead in the future, so we really think it has a stronger impact than just the science," said Pasquina.

Rauch said he hopes the CARE study opens the door to further collaboration.

"There are so many other things that we can do with the NCAA and, through mechanisms such as the CARE consortium, we could also begin to look at other things, such as lifestyles and performance, diet and nutrition, and sleep hygiene. These are things that have a shared interest among our military and NCAA leaders," Rauch said.

Data from the consortium's findings will be made available to the broader scientific community to promote further development of specific strategies for injury prevention, early recognition, and mitigating treatments of those at greatest risk of brain health effects.

You can watch or listen to the full interview on the NCAA Social Series webpage. Click on "Episode 85: DOD CARE Consortium" to watch or listen on various platforms.

You also may be interested in...

Air Force Medical Student Called to Work as Translator for Afghan Evacuees

Article Around MHS
1/25/2022
Military personnel standing in front of a plane

Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (USU) medical school student Air Force 2nd Lt. Kristen Bishop was doing clinical rotations at the Naval Medical Center Portsmouth when she was asked to change her rotations to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center for a special side assignment.

Recommended Content:

Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences | Talking About Afghanistan

Uniformed Services University Neuroscientist Inspired by Chance to Help Others

Article Around MHS
12/10/2021
Doctor posing

Growing up, Dr. Kimberly Byrnes thought she would be a teacher or a doctor. She ended up becoming a scientist who teaches others how to become doctors.

Recommended Content:

Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences

USU Researchers Commended for Innovation, Leadership with 2021 MHSRS Awards

Article Around MHS
10/28/2021
Military personnel posing for a picture

Scientists from the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (USU) were recognized with four awards from the 2021 Military Health System Research Symposium (MHSRS) for their significant contributions to research focused specifically on the unique medical needs of the warfighter. 

Recommended Content:

Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences | MHS Research Symposium

Practice makes perfect: Uniformed Services University students learn combat casualty care

Article Around MHS
10/22/2021
An instructor gives advice on how a team of medical school students at the Uniformed Services University should work on their simulated patient during the Advanced Combat Medical Experience. 

The Advanced Combat Medical Experience (ACME), a four-day medical field practicum at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (USU), is intense

Recommended Content:

Combat Support | Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences

A Medical Student's Journey From Burkina Faso to Uniformed Services University

Article Around MHS
10/8/2021
Navy Ensign Roland Kiendrebeogo, a first-year medical student at the Uniformed Services University, with his wife at his enlisted boot camp graduation, May 2010.

Navy Ensign Roland Kiendrebeogo’s journey from Burkina Faso to Navy medicine.

Recommended Content:

Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences

USU Scientist Named Researcher of the Year for Bleeding Disorders Research

Article Around MHS
10/1/2021
Woman holds an award

Dr. Kathleen Pratt recently received national recognition for her significant contributions to improving treatment and care for patients with bleeding disorders.

Recommended Content:

Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences

USU Students Examine Civil War History to Understand the Future of Medicine

Article Around MHS
9/22/2021
Nearly 300 students from the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences participated in a 30-year-old-tradition of marching through the battlefield of Antietam on Aug. 20

During the Battle of Antietam, Union Major Jonathan Letterman implemented his ideas for reshaping the Army’s Medical Corps, earning him the nickname the “Father of Battlefield Medicine.”

Recommended Content:

Our History | Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences

USU Team Investigates New Minimally-Invasive Carpal Tunnel Surgery

Article Around MHS
9/17/2021
A soldier fits a custom brace for a carpal tunnel patient’s wrist.

The first-ever Ultrasound Guided Carpal Tunnel Release (USCTR) procedure conducted in the military was performed at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center (WRNMMC) in early June.

Recommended Content:

Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences
Showing results 1 - 8 Page 1 of 1
Refine your search
Last Updated: February 24, 2022

DHA Address: 7700 Arlington Boulevard | Suite 5101 | Falls Church, VA | 22042-5101

Some documents are presented in Portable Document Format (PDF). A PDF reader is required for viewing. Download a PDF Reader or learn more about PDFs.