Visual test effective in diagnosing concussions in collegiate athletes

August 31, 2011, University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine

A sideline visual test effectively detected concussions in collegiate athletes, according to a team of researchers from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. Concussed athletes scored an average of 5.9 seconds slower (worse) than the best baseline scores in healthy controls on the timed test, in which athletes read a series of numbers on cards and are scored on time and accuracy. This quick visual test, easily administered on the playing field, holds promise as a complement to other diagnostic tools for sports-related concussion.

Up to 3.8 million Americans sustain sports-related concussions each year, yet current methods fall short from objectively and quickly measuring the presence and severity of a concussion. Evidence-based protocols are needed, both on sidelines to prevent injured players from returning to play too soon, and off the field, for physicians to more accurately and effectively diagnose, treat and rehabilitate patients suffering from concussions.

"This test has demonstrated its ability to provide objective evidence to aid medical professionals and trainers in determining which athletes need to come out of games after a blow to the head," said Laura Balcer, MD, MSCE, professor of Neurology and senior author on the paper. "We'll continue to measure the test's effectiveness in different groups - players who play the same position who have and have not suffered concussions, for instance. It is our hope that the new test, once validated, can be folded into the current sideline battery of tests for concussion, as no single test at this time can be used to diagnose or manage concussion."

The King-Devick test, originally used as a dyslexia test, detects impaired eye movements and rapid eye movements called saccades, indicating diminished . A previous study, published in Neurology, of this visual screening test for concussion found that boxers and mixed martial arts (MMA) fighters who had during their matches had significantly higher (worse) post-fight time test scores. Fighters who lost consciousness were on average 18 seconds slower on the test after their bouts.

In this follow-up study, published online in the Journal of the Neurological Sciences, 219 collegiate athletes were given the 2 minute test as a baseline at the start of the sports season. Athletes who sustained concussions - an impulse blow to the head or body that results in transient neurologic signs or symptoms - in games or practices during the season were given the test immediately on the sidelines.

Athletes who suffered concussions had significantly higher (worse) time scores compared to baselines. In the injured group, there were occasional accuracy errors while reading the cards, with one athlete making four errors and two others making one mistake each following a blow to the head. Two of these three did not have significantly slower test-taking times, suggesting that there may be a tradeoff of accuracy for increased time to complete the test in some concussed athletes. Researchers proposed adding a defined amount of time to the cumulative score for every error on the test, to account for the tradeoff of accuracy for time.

Researchers also looked at test improvement over time and post-game fatigue. A group tested following an intense scrimmage showed no signs of fatigue and actually improved their test scores compared to baseline. Another group tested before and after the season showed modest improvements, likely a result of learning effects common in many performance measures.

This rapid sideline visual screening tool can complement other diagnostic assessments for sports-related .

Explore further: Concussion baseline important for accurate future assessment in at-risk youth athletes

Related Stories

Concussion baseline important for accurate future assessment in at-risk youth athletes

July 7, 2011
Creating a baseline for each youth athlete is a critical part of accurate future concussion assessment, according to researchers presenting their study at the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine's Annual Meeting ...

Does baseline concussion testing really reduce risks to athletes?

June 1, 2011
Baseline concussion tests given to hundreds of thousands of athletes might, paradoxically, increase risks in some cases, according to a Loyola University Health System researcher.

Recommended for you

Brain's tiniest blood vessels trigger spinal motor neurons to develop

March 23, 2018
A new study has revealed that the human brain's tiniest blood vessels can activate genes known to trigger spinal motor neurons, prompting the neurons to grow during early development. The findings could provide insights into ...

How do we lose memory? A STEP at a time, researchers say

March 23, 2018
In mice, rats, monkeys, and people, aging can take its toll on cognitive function. A new study by researchers at Yale and Université de Montréal reveal there is a common denominator to the decline in all of these species—an ...

Being hungry shuts off perception of chronic pain

March 22, 2018
Pain can be valuable. Without it, we might let our hand linger on a hot stove, for example. But longer-lasting pain, such as the inflammatory pain that can arise after injury, can be debilitating and costly, preventing us ...

From signal propagation to consciousness: New findings point to a potential connection

March 22, 2018
Researchers at New York University have discovered a novel mechanism through which information can be effectively transmitted across many areas in the brain—a finding that offers a potentially new way of understanding how ...

Using simplicity for complexity—new research sheds light on the perception of motion

March 22, 2018
A team of biologists has deciphered how neurons used in the perception of motion form in the brain of a fly —a finding that illustrates how complex neuronal circuits are constructed from simple developmental rules.

Focus on early stage of illness may be key to treating ALS, study suggests

March 22, 2018
A new kind of genetically engineered mouse and an innovation in how to monitor those mice during research have shed new light on the early development of an inherited form of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.