Purpose: The objective of this study was to assess the neuroautonomic cardiovascular regulation in recently concussed athletes at rest and in response to low-moderate steady-state exercise, using heart rate variability (HRV).
Methods: A 5-min ECG sample was taken at rest from the 14 concussed athletes at 1.8 (+/- 0.2) days postinjury and again at 5 d later. Once asymptomatic at rest, the concussed athletes and their matched controls (N = 14) participated in an exercise protocol. The protocol consisted of a 2-min warm-up with a pedaling frequency between 50 and 60 rpm against a load of 40 W. After the warm-up, the athletes engaged in a low-moderate intensity steady state 10-min exercise bout where the pedaling frequency and load increased to 80-90 rpm and 1.5 W x kg(-1) body weight, respectively. The protocol was repeated 5 d later. A 5-min ECG sample from minutes 4 to 9 of the low-moderate intensity steady state exercise bout was used to assess HRV during exercise. Mixed model ANOVA were used to analyze the data.
Results: No difference at rest was detected between the concussed athletes and their matched controls in any of the HRV variables measured. However, across both exercise tests, the concussed group demonstrated a significant decrease in the mean RR interval, and low- and high-frequency power (P < 0.05) in relation to their matched controls.
Conclusion: Low-moderate steady-state exercise elicits a neuroautonomic cardiovascular dysfunction in concussed athletes that is not present in a rested state. This dysfunction alludes to an exercise induced uncoupling between the autonomic and cardiovascular systems.