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Baseline Concussion Testing: A Necessary Part of Sports

POSTED BY: Florida Hospital

Contributing Writer: Michael E. Dougherty, Florida Hospital Sports Concussion Program Coordinator

Sports concussions are common athletic injuries that have gained a lot of attention in the media. There’s always talk about what to do once an athlete has sustained a concussion – what are the symptoms of a concussion, how to treat it, etc.  However, the conversation that should come first is what to do before an athlete sustains a concussion. 

As defined by the Center for Disease Control (CDC), a concussion is a type of mild traumatic brain injury (MTBI) that results in disruption of normal brain function. This injury most often occurs from a bump, jolt, or shaking of the head through violent contact with the ground, an object or another individual.

The sudden movement causes the brain to bounce around or twist inside the skull. This leads to stretching and damaging of brain cells and chemical changes in the brain. A concussion is classified as “mild” because it is not usually life-threatening. Yet, the effects can be serious and last for days, weeks, or even longer.

Concussions can occur in a variety of ways and the symptoms can appear anywhere from immediately to a day or two later.  Understanding the signs and symptoms of a concussion is important to ensure that you will receive the appropriate care.

Related Story: Signs of a concussion 

Why Baseline Testing?
It’s highly recommended that athletes who participate in sports should obtain a baseline concussion test prior to the start of each sporting season. Some schools and leagues require this testing for all athletes in order to participate. 

Baseline concussion testing provides objective information to obtain normal brain function in an athletes’ normal, healthy state. This gives us a good measure of where an athlete’s brain function is before injuries occur.

Essentially, baseline testing collects data pertaining to neurocognitive ability, balance, and vision. The neurocognitive assessment involves a series of different tests, which looks at brain function. This can include attention, visual and verbal memory, immediate and delayed recall as well as reaction time and mental processing speed.  This is performed on the computer and takes between 30 to 45 minutes to complete.

If a concussion is suspected at any point throughout the season, the athlete should undergo concussion testing and those test results are then compared to original baseline scores. This helps determine areas of the brain that have been affected as well as if and when an athlete has fully recovered. Every concussion is different, so baseline tests are an important tool to determine the best treatment for each individual.

Concussions are a serious injury and should always be evaluated by a healthcare professional trained in concussion management.  Your brain needs time to recover so you should never return to practice or a game on the same day of the injury.  When in doubt, sit it out!

Related Story: Caring for Concussions 

Signs of a Concussion

If you’ve sustained a hit or blow to the head, you could have a concussion. Signs and symptoms may occur hours or days after the injury and can include:

  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Balance problems
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Trouble falling asleep
  • Excessive sleep
  • Loss of sleep
  • Drowsiness
  • Light sensitivity
  • Noise sensitivity
  • Irritability
  • Sadness
  • Nervousness
  • More emotional
  • Numbness
  • Feeling “slow”
  • Feeling “foggy”
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Difficulty remembering
  • Visual problems

If your child experiences any of these symptoms, seek medical attention immediately for an evaluation.