Simple Concussion Tool Offers an Alternative to High Tech Tests

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The hockey puck tool in use

Source: Dr. Steven Broglio/New York Times

Football season is gearing up for high school and college athletes across the country, renewing concerns over repeated head impacts and traumatic brain injuries or concussions. Even over the past year, tons of advancements have been made in managing brain injuries, and research has unearthed extensive information as to how our brains function and react immediately following injury.

The most talked about advancements are likely the collection of new sensors, caps, and testing protocols which help identify and diagnose concussion, particularly the Guardian Cap which can be worn under helmets, but uses sensors and LED lights to notify athletes, coaches, and health care professionals to impacts that are likely to cause brain injury. Another much talked change is the widespread use of the ImPACT test, which uses a baseline test of memory, cognitive ability, and reaction time to be later compared against testing following potential injury. Differences in test results signal possible concussion or TBI.

While the ImPACT test is acquirable for most schools, the fancy technology that is being used for on-the-field signaling of potential brain injury is less affordable. Fitting every player with a Guardian Cap ($55) would rack up heavy costs for many smaller schools without huge athletic department budgets. But, the coaches, athletes, and parents connected to these smaller football programs are just as concerned about brain injury as any other team. How are they to attempt to manage brain injury effectively without excess money to spend?

Well a new study published in The British Journal of Sports Medicine may have a solution in the form of a practical DIY tool that can easily be put together with just a few cheap products. All you would need to assemble the tool is a long ruler or long wooden dowel rod marked with centimeters in ink, and a hockey puck adhered to the stick.

The principle behind the tool is that in the immediate aftermath of brain injury, reaction times tend to increase. The ruler-puck tool measures reaction times simply. An evaluator such as a coach or team doctor holds the stick in front of an athlete seated at a table with one arm resting on the surface and his hand along the table’s edge. The evaluator lines the puck up with the bottom of the athlete’s hand and lets go while the athlete catches the falling stick. Players would be tested before the season and a baseline result recorded, then after possible injury, the players can be tested again. If the reaction is slower than the baseline, the player is likely concussed.

The New York Times reported the tool and details the scientific testing used to prove the tool’s effectiveness, and while it may not be perfectly accurate, it certainly would make an excellent addition for schools who can’t afford the computers and sensor-laden caps that are showing up on football fields across the country.

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