One of the most difficult challenges when treating an athlete who suffers a concussion is knowing when that athlete has completely recovered. 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 fully recovered, such as a baseline concussion test.
Asking the athlete if she is experiencing symptoms, such as headaches or dizziness, is a good start. We do know that many athletes will deny symptoms in order to play. Plus, they often don’t realize that some of the issues they feel are signs and symptoms of a concussion.
The physical exam and neurologic tests that athletic trainers and doctors perform are also important. They might not detect minor injuries. Plus, the tests might appear to be normal even before the brain has completely returned to normal.
Baseline concussion tests are extremely valuable in this process. Usually sports medicine programs administer the tests. They might teach the team’s coaches to lead their players through the tests.
These tests create a neurocognitive “baseline” profile for each player. If an athlete suffers a concussion during the season, a doctor can repeat the test as she recovers to monitor her recovery. The tests can often detect subtle changes despite the athlete looking and feeling normal. When these results return to baseline levels, a doctor could consider allowing her to return to play.
A baseline concussion test can be very important for all athletes who play contact or collision sports in which concussions are possible.