As football season heats up, you’re likely to find Dr. Stanley Herring cheering on the Seahawks like it’s his job—because it is. He is a team physician for the Seattle Seahawks and Mariners, as well as a consultant for the University of Washington Sports Medicine Program and for the Seattle Storm. The spine and sports concussion specialist was a major mover behind passage of the Zackery Lystedt Law in Washington state in 2009, the first of its kind, requiring athletes younger than age 18 who are suspected to have sustained a concussion to be removed from practice or play until a medical professional clears them to play again. The Thursday before the Seahawks’ Super Bowl win in February, Mississippi became the 50th state to pass a version of this law, which Herring considers a huge win: “I like to say being with the ’Hawks was the second-best thing that happened to me that day.”
What should everyone know about concussion?
Number one is that a concussion is a brain injury and all concussions are potentially serious. Number two: Before you panic, know that most concussions recover—out of more than 4 million concussions, 85 percent are better within seven to 10 days. Number three is, don’t make mistakes like specifically trying to return to practice or play. Number four: Kids are not little adults, and the best thing anyone can do is to see a health care provider trained in evaluation and management before you even think of returning to the sport. Concussion in young people takes longer to recover [from] than it does in adults; this may be due to skull shape or the unique issues around developing brains. What happened to Zack [Lystedt] doesn’t happen to people in their 20s and 30s.
How did you come to specialize in spine disorders and concussion?
My training is in physical medicine and rehabilitation. I’ve always liked helping people who’ve been challenged. I specialize in restoration of function, making people function better, and dealing with the psychological and social consequences of their injuries.
As involved as you are with athletes and active people, what is your activity of choice?
We are an active family: My son is an extreme outdoor sports educator, my daughter was a collegiate basketball player and remains an active athlete, my wife is a triathlete; we all used to be runners but now we’re more walkers and hikers. Fitness is important, and organized sports are a good thing. I think with proper supervision, sports are not too dangerous; what is really dangerous is not doing anything.
What advice do you give to your patients that you don’t always follow yourself?
I very strongly encourage my patients to make sure they have adequate time for rest and recovery, to minimize unnecessary stress and conflict in their life. I am pretty good on the exercise portion of it, but stress and conflict and adequate sleep [laughs]—I would suggest that I could do better on that front.