One of the most difficult challenges when treating an athlete who suffers a concussion is knowing when she has completely recovered. Asking the player if she is experiencing headaches, dizziness and other symptoms is a good start, but athletes often deny symptoms in order to play. Physical examination and neurologic tests are also important, but they might not be sensitive enough to detect minor injuries. The risk of recurrent concussions and more severe brain injuries increase when the brain has not fully recovered. We need ways to determine when the athlete has reached full recovery. Baseline concussion testing are an essential component of this process.
Several companies provide these tests. Usually sports medicine programs administer the tests or teach coaches to do so with their players. These tests develop a neurocognitive “baseline” profile for each player. If you suffer a concussion during the season, a doctor can repeat the test to monitor your recovery. Only when these results return to baseline levels would the doctor consider allowing you to return to play.
All athletes who play contact or collision sports in which concussions are possible should undergo one of these tests before each season.
One precaution is worth mentioning: just as athletes will deny concussion symptoms in order to play, many admit that they intentionally try to perform poorly on the baseline concussion testing. It’s crucial that we not only use these tests in sports, but athletes must understand their importance for long-term health.