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Concussions in Athletes Detected Using One Minute Sideline Test


Any athlete suspected of suffering a concussion can be given a simple one minute test on the sidelines to help detect the injury, according to a new study by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. This sideline test proved to be better than current techniques to identify concussions in athletes.

One minute test detects early signs of concussion

The one minute test, called the King-Devick test, involves reading single digit numbers provided on index-sized cards. When players take longer to identify the numbers than they did prior to the game or injury, this suggests a concussion has occurred, especially if the delay is longer than five seconds compared with baseline.

Although the King-Devick test sounds simplistic, it is able to capture dysfunctional eye movements and impaired language, attention, and other symptoms associated with brain dysfunction. It allows coaches and trainers to make a decision about whether to remove players from games.

According to Laura Balcer, MD, MSCE, professor of neurology, ophthalmology and epidemiology at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, “If validated in future studies, this test has the potential to become a standard sideline test for athletes.”

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Among high school students alone, concussions are a major concern. According to a study conducted by Ohio State University and published in August 2009, 11.6 percent of injuries suffered by high school students who play sports are concussions. A total of 13,755 injuries were reported for the 2005 through 2008 academic years. Football players had the highest rate of recurrent injuries.

A McGill University study analyzed data from 380 university football and 240 university soccer players for one year and found that 70.4 percent of football players had experienced symptoms of a concussion, yet only 23.4 percent realized they had a concussion. Nearly all (84.6%) of the football players had experienced more than one concussion.

Concussions among professional athletes have been associated with an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. Research also shows that teen athletes who sustain multiple concussions may have early signs of post-concussion syndrome, with symptoms such as headache and dizziness.

The study’s lead author, Kristin Galetta, MS, noted that the new one minute sideline test for concussions is “only one test” and that “the diagnosis of concussion requires a combination of tests and input of medical professionals.”

Swenson DM et al. American Journal of Sports Medicine 2009 Aug; 37(8): 1586-93

University of Pennsylvania news release