The Changing Landscape of Sport Concussion

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It was not too long ago that many people referred to concussion as a “hidden injury” and a “complex injury for which we still had much to learn.” We still have a lot to learn about these injuries, but because of the advancement of concussion research we are better informed today than we were just a decade ago. Much of this work began in the early to mid-1990s with studies aimed at equipping clinicians with better concussion-assessment tools. We needed to remove the guesswork, so more systematic and objective concussion-assessment batteries (sideline and clinic) that included symptom checklists, cognitive tests, and balance assessments were developed and validated. As a result, it became easier to detect and/or rule out concussions and to track recovery for several days postinjury. From 2009 through 2014, all 50 states and the District of Columbia passed concussion legislation requiring concussion education for high school and youth athletes, among other things. This was a critical period in which more emphasis was placed on concussion prevention, ultimately leading to increased reporting of these injuries and a reduction in the number of unreported and undiagnosed concussions. More recently, the corpus of science has evolved to identify potential blood and neuroimaging biomarkers to complement the traditional-clinical assessment tools, and newer studies are focused on treatment after concussion—challenging the notions that “rest is best” and that the effects of concussion are permanent and immutable. The research is ongoing, and several large multisite studies will yield important findings to help guide clinical decision making in the next few years.

The authors are with the Center for the Study of Retired Athletes, Matthew Gfeller Sport-Related Traumatic Brain Injury Research Center, Dept. of Exercise and Sport Science, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC.

Guskiewicz (gus@email.unc.edu) is corresponding author.
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