Science Fair Project Leads To New Sports Concussion Test

A simple test of reaction time may help determine whether athletes have sustained a concussion (also known as mild traumatic brain injury) and when they are ready to play again, according to a study released February 15 that was presented at the American Academy of Neurology's 62nd Annual Meeting in Toronto last month.

According to a story by NPR; "The test is the idea of Ian Richardson, a Michigan high-school student. The teenager devised it as a quick and simple way to test reaction time for a science fair project.  Richardson's device looks like something out of a 19th-century medical text. It's a hockey puck, with a long rod embedded in the middle. The stick is marked off in centimeter increments.  Turns out Ian Richardson's father, James, is on the faculty of the University of Michigan Medical School. He thought Ian's idea might be a pretty cool on-the-spot way to screen for concussions among athletes"

Dr. Richardson forwarded the idea to James Eckner, MD, of the University of Michigan Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation in Ann Arbor.  Eckner and his colleagues developed a simple, inexpensive device to measure reaction time: a cylinder attached to a weighted disk. The examiner releases the device and the athlete catches it as soon as possible.

For the study, the researchers gave the test to 209 Division I college football, wrestling and women's soccer athletes during their preseason physicals. Then any athlete who had a concussion diagnosed by a physician during the season took the test again within three days of the concussion.

"Research has shown that reaction time is slower after a concussion -- even as long as several days after other symptoms are gone," said Eckner. "But the tests currently used to measure reaction time require computers and special software."

Eight athletes had concussions during the study. Of those, seven of the athletes had a prolonged reaction time after the concussion compared to the preseason time. Catching the object took about 15 percent longer.

"Because of its simplicity and low cost, this test may work well with youth athletes, where there is limited access to computerized testing of reaction time," Eckner said.

Source: American Academy of Neurology

See also: Lifting The Fog Of Sports Concussions and Hockey Hits Are Hurting More