Context: Concussed athletes may underreport concussion-related symptoms in order to expedite return to play. Whether neurocognitive impairments persist once concussion-related symptoms resolve has yet to be determined. Reliance on athlete-reported, postconcussion symptoms when making return-to-play decisions may expose athletes to subsequent injury if complete recovery has not occurred.
Objective: To evaluate the presence of neurocognitive decrements in concussed athletes no longer reporting concussion-related symptoms.
Design: Within-groups design.
Setting: University research laboratory.
Patients or other participants: Twenty-one National Collegiate Athletic Association Division I collegiate athletes (16 men, 5 women). Age = 19.81 +/- 1.25 years, height = 180.95 +/- 10.62 cm, mass = 93.66 +/- 27.60 kg, and previous concussions = 1.76 +/- 2.02.
Main outcome measure(s): The ImPACT concussion assessment test was administered to concussed athletes at baseline, when symptomatic (within 72 hours of injury), and when asymptomatic. Index scores of verbal memory, visual memory, visual-motor speed, reaction time, and concussion-related symptoms were recorded at each session. The Symptom Assessment Scale was administered daily after injury to establish when the athlete became asymptomatic.
Results: When assessed within 72 hours of concussion, 81% of the athletes showed deficits on at least 1 ImPACT variable. At the asymptomatic time point, 38% of the concussed athletes continued to demonstrate neurocognitive impairment on at least 1 ImPACT variable.
Conclusions: Neurocognitive decrements may persist when athletes no longer report concussion-related symptoms. The exclusive use of symptom reports in making a return-to-play decision is not advised. A multifaceted approach to concussion assessment that includes evaluation of a myriad of functions is warranted.
Keywords: ImPACT; concussion; return to play; symptoms.