PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — In hockey, concussions, or disruptions in brain function after a blow to the head, are common.

“It was our last season game and I didn’t see the kid and he came out of nowhere and just elbowed me in the head,” Gage Niedermeyer, a youth hockey player from Bethel Park, said.

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“We see anywhere between 5 to 10 percent of hockey players will sustain a concussion per year,” Dr. Michael Collins of UPMC Sports Medicine said.

The parents of youth hockey players are often thinking about concussions.

“This was a mission we need to set out on,” Dave Soltesz of the Pittsburgh Penguins Foundation said. “The questions were overwhelming.”

After half a year of planning, the Penguins Foundation announced a new program called “Heads Up Pittsburgh.”

Protecting the brains of young hockey players is on the minds of the Penguins Foundation, UPMC Sports Medicine and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In a program that’s the first of its kind, these young players can get a first step in concussion care, even before their first injury.

Six thousand youth hockey league players in the area will have free concussion baseline testing. This starts May 1st at UPMC Sports Medicine on the South Side.

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“The only way to measure a concussion is to put the brain to work. You can’t see concussion with a CT scan or MRI,” Dr. Collins said.

Baseline testing, which is done even before a concussion occurs, involves an examination of balance, exertion, vision, sensation and computer testing of thinking function. This can be used as a comparison after a concussion to determine how impaired a player is.

Close monitoring and complete recovery after concussion before returning to play helps to prevent serious complications.

“You’re going to lessen the recovery time for these kids, they’re going to able to get back to hockey sooner,” Dr. Collins said. “You want to make sure when you have a concussion you get managed carefully and you see the clinician who can do the right kinds of tests and that’s what we do here.”

“I think it’s a good idea. I think it’ll help a lot of kids,” Niedermeyer said.

The program is expected to be mandatory for the upcoming season. If a player has a concussion during hockey, they can be seen as a patient for follow-up and comparison to their baseline test. However, that would be a regular doctor’s visit and not free or covered by the program.

To register your child for the program, visit: UPMC.com/hockeytesting

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