Do Not Rely Only On What Young Athletes Say When Managing Concussions

Armen Hareyan's picture
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Symptoms of Concussions and Management

When it comes to managing concussions in sports, relying only on an athlete's self report of symptoms is inadequate and likely to result in under-diagnosing the injury and the athlete unsafely returning to play following the concussion, warn doctors at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) Sports Medicine Concussion Program. Along with assessing symptoms, the doctors stress, using computer-based neurocognitive function testing is crucial for accurate, objective evaluation of concussion and determining a safe return-to-play time for the athlete.

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"Because of the tendency of some athletes to under-report their symptoms, presumably in an attempt to speed their return to the playing field, neurocognitive testing following suspected concussion is particularly important in keeping kids safe," said Mark Lovell, Ph.D., director of the UPMC Sports Medicine Concussion Program. Research has shown at least one in 10 high school or college athletes sustains a concussion each year.

Dr. Lovell's alert is based on a recent UPMC study of concussed high school and college athletes that showed unreliability of the athletes' self-reported symptoms and demonstrated the value of neurocognitive testing in significantly increasing the capacity to detect post-concussion abnormalities, decreasing the potential of exposure to additional injury. Previous research has shown that young concussed athletes who are returned to play too soon, before their brains have healed, are highly vulnerable to further injury, including post-concussion syndrome, or in rare cases, fatal second-impact syndrome. The current study is published in the upcoming issue of the American Journal of Sports Medicine, available online at www.ajsm.org

"Given our study results, it is concerning that most return-to-play decisions following concussion have relied heavily on the athlete's self report of symptoms. In fact, in many sports settings, return-to-play decisions have been based almost exclusively on what the athlete says," said Dr. Lovell, author of the study. "This research further proves what we have learned from years of experience in our clinic

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