Objective: Neuropsychological (NP) testing has been used for several years as a way of detecting the effects of sport-related concussion in order to aid in return-to-play determinations. In addition to standard pencil-and-paper tests, computerized NP tests are being commercially marketed for this purpose to professional, collegiate, high school, and elementary school programs. However, a number of important questions regarding the clinical validity and utility of these tests remain unanswered, and these questions present serious challenges to the applicability of NP testing for the management of sport-related concussion. Our purpose is to outline the criteria that should be met in order to establish the utility of NP instruments as a tool in the management of sport-related concussion and to review the degree to which existing tests have met these criteria.
Data sources: A comprehensive literature review of MEDLINE and PsychLit from 1990 to 2004, including all prospective, controlled studies of NP testing in sport-related concussion.
Data synthesis: The effects of concussion on NP test performance are so subtle even during the acute phase of injury (1-3 days postinjury) that they often fail to reach statistical significance in group studies. Thus, this method may lack utility in individual decision making because of a lack of sensitivity. In addition, most of these tests fail to meet other psychometric criteria (eg, adequate reliability) necessary for this purpose. Finally, it is unclear that NP testing can detect impairment in players once concussion-related symptoms (eg, headache) have resolved. Because no current guideline for the management of sport-related concussion allows a symptomatic player to return to sport, the incremental utility of NP testing remains questionable.
Conclusions/recommendations: Despite the theoretic rationale for the use of NP testing in the management of sport-related concussion, no NP tests have met the necessary criteria to support a clinical application at this time. Additional research is necessary to establish the utility of these tests before they can be considered part of a routine standard of care, and concussion recovery should be monitored via the standard clinical examination and subjective symptom checklists until NP testing or other methods are proven effective for this purpose.