Over just the past two years, countless tests have been developed ranging from smartphone apps to full systems which are capable of evaluating balance and reaction time. Many of these tests have made their way to sports sidelines in an effort to evaluate and diagnose brain injuries as quickly as possible during play. But, few of them have been formally evaluated by a respected institution, until now.
A recent study, conducted by the Mayo Clinic, shows that a simple test known as the King-Devick is an effective tool for detecting concussions. Dr. Amaal Starling, co-author of the study, said “this is really the first accurate, rapid, cost-effective, removal-from-play tool that is available for concussion screen.”
The tool is already commonly used with adult athletes, but the Mayo Clinic’s findings show the tool also works effectively with youth athletes as well.
The test is simple. An athlete is timed reading single-digit numbers left to right on three cards, each card being progressively more difficult. A baseline test is given at the beginning of the season, and an athlete can be tested again if injury is suspected.
“If that post injury test is greater than five seconds longer than their baseline we recommend removal from play,” Starling explained.
The Mayo Clinic study followed 150 youth hockey players, 20 of which were clinically diagnosed with concussion during the study period. Those diagnosed with concussions consistently showed prolonged King-Devick test times.
“So it really gives us the confidence that this is an accurate tool that we can use,” said Starling.
Interestingly, the test may also be picking up on signs of “silent concussions” or brain injuries that are acquired without the typical symptoms of a concussion.
“We found that there was a group of about 11 athletes that did not have symptoms of a concussion, but in the post season testing they had prolonged times. We were surprised by those findings and we don’t exactly know what those findings mean. […] Our concern is maybe the King-Devick test is picking up silent concussions or asymptomatic concussions. We don’t know if that is what happened, but it’s definitely something we need to investigate further.”