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Preventing, evaluating and managing sports related concussions is a hot topic right now.
For example, Monmouth Neuroscience Institute, in association with the Matthew J. Morahan III Health Assessment Program, offers baseline cognitive screening events and concussion evaluations for local school and college athletes.
Like most programs around the country, we use the ImPACT computerized testing to measure reaction times and assess concussions. However, this type of computer testing requires specialized equipment and staff training.
Investigators are still looking for a more simple and cost effective assessment tool that can be used to asses athletes’ reaction times right on the side lines, to allow immediate return to play decisions during the actual game.
Sports medicine physicians from the University of Michigan have developed a homemade device that could be used in this way.
They stuck a hockey puck to then end of a long wooden dowel marked with centimeter spaced lines along its length.
The evaluator holds it in front of the athlete who is seated with one arm resting on a table. The evaluator lines up the puck with the bottom of the athlete’s hand and lets go. Once the athlete has caught the falling stick, the evaluator marks where his hand lands, which gives a quantitative measure of reaction time.
A concussed athlete will have a slower reaction time and take longer to catch the stick (catching it further down) than a healthy athlete.
In a study published last year these investigators first used their homemade device to measure pre-season reaction times of football, soccer and hockey players. Then they waited for these same athletes to get injured with concussions, and had them to re-take the test within at least 48 hours of the head injury. They found that the concussed athletes took significantly longer (sometimes as much as a full second) to catch the rod than before the head trauma.
The catch? You still need a baseline measure for each athlete – but it might be easier to get high school and college kids to do this simple 5min test before the first game of the season than have them go to specialized testing center for a computer based test. Then, with those baseline test results recorded, any coach can repeat the test on the side-lines after an injury and decide if they should be worried.
I am sure the use of a hockey puck was no accident!