How to test for concussion in athletes

footballAlong with the start of school comes a busy season for youth recreational sports. Soccer leagues, small fry football and lacrosse are all popular fall sports. This year, my 7-year-old opted to play flag football through our local recreation department.

I’ll be honest: At first I didn’t like the idea.  I’ve seen the studies that have found long-lasting brain injuries among football players, even at the high school level.  Football players as young as 8 to 12 years old have been found to suffer concussions at the same rate as their older counterparts.

But it’s not just football.  Ice hockey, soccer, lacrosse and wrestling are also sports that increase youths’ risk of suffering a concussion. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, approximately 4 million sports-related concussions occur each year in the United States, and they can have long-term consequences.

A new systematic review published this fall found evidence that there is a simple test that parents and coaches can use to tell if a player has suffered a minor concussion.

The test works like this: Athletes are timed while they read numbers off a list as quickly as possible. Athletes take the test before their sports season starts, and then anytime a concussion is suspected.

In the meta-analysis, athletes who suffered a concussion were, on average, 4.8 seconds slower reading the numbers compared with their original score.

The analysis includes 15 studies and more than 1,400 athletes including pro hockey players, as well as youth, college and amateur football, hockey, soccer, lacrosse, basketball, boxing and rugby players.

In the systematic review, the test detected 96 out of 122 concussions, as well as correctly identified concussions 86 percent of the time.

I’m still not completely comfortable with my son playing flag football. But I’m glad to know that researchers are paying attention to the issue of concussions among athletes. My hope is that someday, sports teams at all levels will use a test like this one to monitor players.

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