As parents grow increasingly informed about student athletes’ suffering concussions, it’s important to know about helpful testing methods.
Dr. Jorge Gomez, Sports Medicine Specialist at Texas Children’s Hospital West Campus
It’s not uncommon for parents to worry about their children as they play sports. Because young athletes are more susceptible to concussion, it’s important to know what options are available for your kids if they are injured.
A concussion can occur in many sports and usually occurs from a direct blow to the head. However, a concussion can also occur with a rapid turning of the head. Common symptoms and signs include headache, dizziness, blurry vision, appearing confused and slow to answer questions. The main treatment for a concussion is rest, which for the athlete means no athletic activity, plenty of sleep and brain rest, including minimal use of electronics. Research has shown that young athletes may be more susceptible to concussions and may require a longer period of rest for their brains to return to normal function.
Texas Children’s Hospital has started using computerized neuropsychological (NP) testing to evaluate an athlete’s brain function after a concussion. NP testing evaluates individuals brain function: how well they concentrate, remember, organize information, and how quickly they can solve problems. While not as thorough as traditional NP testing, which is done with pencil and paper and conducted by a specialist called a neuropsychologist, computerized NP testing allows similar evaluation of brain function that can be done quickly, and does not require a neuropsychologist to interpret the results.
Computerized NP testing does not make the diagnosis of concussion. There can be other reasons besides concussion for an athlete to perform poorly on such a test. Concussion is still a clinical diagnosis, meaning the health care provider makes the diagnosis based on information on how the injury occurred, the patient’s symptoms immediately after the injury, and any abnormalities the provider finds upon examining the patient. Computerized NP testing has given us an additional tool for determining when an athlete’s brain has returned to normal, and therefore when they may safely return to sport.
Many healthcare providers are promoting baseline NP testing for athletes in contact and collision sports, that is, testing before they suffer a concussion, in order to have something to compare to if and when they do get a concussion. While it seems logical to get baseline testing for comparison, recent research indicates that checking a concussed athlete’s NP test results against standard scores for their age gives a more reliable indication of whether the athlete’s brain function is normal than comparing their results to baseline scores. Other recent research has shown that baseline testing of team sport athletes in groups results in many of the tests being invalid. In light of the latest research, Texas Children’s does not perform group baseline testing.
Unfortunately, injuries occur frequently in most sports. It’s important to treat sports injuries correctly in order to prevent further problems.