A simple, inexpensive test of reaction time may help determine on the sidelines whether an athlete has suffered a concussion, according to research to be presented in April at the American Academy of Neurology's 62nd annual meeting in Toronto.
Research has shown that reaction time is slower after a concussion - even as long as several days after other symptoms have resolved. However, tests currently used to measure reaction time rely on computers and special software. That rules out their use in real-time situations such as games.
"We view their reliance on computers a limiting factor for use in many clinical settings," Dr James T. Eckner of the University of Michigan Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation in Ann Arbor said
This led Eckner and his colleagues to develop a simple test of reaction time: a rigid cylinder attached to a weighted disk.
How the device works
The examiner releases the device and the athlete must react and catch it as quickly as possible.
During preseason physicals, Eckner and colleagues gave the test to more than 200 Division I college football, wrestling and women's soccer players.
Players who suffered a doctor-diagnosed concussion during the season took the test again within 3 days of the concussion.
Eight athletes suffered a concussion during the season and seven of them had prolonged reaction time after the injury compared to the preseason time. Catching the cylinder took about 15% 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 noted in a statement from the American Academy of Neurology.
Larger trial planned
"While we don't think that this simple test will replace computerised cognitive testing in the evaluation of concussion," Eckner said, "we do think that it has the potential to add value in the initial sideline or training room evaluation of concussion where computerized testing is impractical, as well as in younger athletes who may not have access to the more expensive computeriszed tests."
Eckner said the next step would be a larger controlled trial. - (Reuters Health, February 2010)