Concussion Testing

1 What is a Concussion Testing?

Concussion testing assesses the function of your brain before and after head trauma.

Concussion testing is one of the tools at a doctor's disposal that may be used to evaluate and manage your health after a head injury.

2 Reasons for Procedure

The main reason for a concussion testing is to make an evaluation of your brain's processing and thinking (cognitive) function after a subsequent head injury.

A baseline concussion test may be performed before the beginning of a sports session of athletes at risk of head injuries. A baseline concussion test clearly shows how efficient your brain is currently functioning and may be quite useful in making a diagnosis of a concussion after an injury.

A doctor can do the test by simply asking questions, or testing might be done with a computer. This test might be repeated often, especially in younger athletes (usually 10 and older) whose brains are still developing and changing over a period of time.

Some athletes might need a baseline concussion test each year, with neuropsychological testing more often if they have had a concussion or they have another medical condition.

Following a concussion, testing may be repeated and a comparison made to the previous test to identify any changes in the function of your brain. It can also be a useful guide in determining when the brain has recovered from a concussion.

Risk of a concussion

If you continue to play or return to your sport too early after a concussion, there is a significant risk of another concussion occurring. If a second concussion is sustained while the initial concussion is healing, it can result in fatal brain swelling (second impact syndrome)

Repeat concussions can take a longer period to heal. Also, repeat concussions have a higher risk of causing permanent nervous system (neurological) damage.

Children, teens, and female athletes may be at a higher risk of concussions than others, and their recovery might take longer.

Individuals who have a concussion should not return to play or other physical activities until all other symptoms are gone and they have been seen by a health care professional with expertise in evaluating and treating individuals with concussions.

After concussion symptoms resolve and prior to returning to playing your particular sport or activity, concussed individuals need to participate in a gradually progressive concussion exertional protocol, which usually last five to six days.

Each day provides the individual with exercise that is progressively more challenging in exertion and intensity. Individuals must complete all levels without symptoms recurring to be able to be cleared to return to sport and physical activity.

Concussion

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3 Potential Risks

Concussion testing is generally safe and carries no potential risks.

4 What to Expect

Here’s what you can expect during and after your concussion test.

Before a concussion

You may need a baseline concussion test before the sports season begins. A baseline concussion test is often performed using a computerized test. The computerized test is quite similar to playing a video game.

Computerized baseline concussion testing offers a quick, efficient way for a lot of athletes to test their baseline brain function. The test takes about 15 minutes to complete.

After a concussion

You may have another computerized concussion test after a concussion.

Depending on your result on the computerized test and comparison to baseline testing (if available), you may repeat the test multiple times for up to a few weeks.

This test is one of the tools that help determine when your brain function has returned to normal. Doctors may use this along with other tests to make a decision when you may be able to safely resume normal activities.

5 Procedure Results

Returning to play

If test results have clarified that your brain function has returned to normal, but you are still experiencing symptoms from your concussion, then doctors will advise you not to return to sports until you fully heal. Although many concussions resolve quickly, some athletes may experience symptoms for weeks, months or longer. 

Doctors will also make a review of your history and symptoms and perform a neurological examination to test your balance and other brain functions.

In the case where your concussion symptoms do not resolve and persist, a doctor trained in brain and mental health conditions (neuropsychologist) may perform more detailed testing to further assess changes in brain function. Your treatment team will determine when you are able to return to sports, school, and other activities.

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