Sensitivity and specificity of subacute computerized neurocognitive testing and symptom evaluation in predicting outcomes after sports-related concussion

Am J Sports Med. 2011 Jun;39(6):1209-16. doi: 10.1177/0363546510392016. Epub 2011 Feb 1.


Background: Concussions affect an estimated 136 000 high school athletes yearly. Computerized neurocognitive testing has been shown to be appropriately sensitive and specific in diagnosing concussions, but no studies have assessed its utility to predict length of recovery. Determining prognosis during subacute recovery after sports concussion will help clinicians more confidently address return-to-play and academic decisions.

Purpose: To quantify the prognostic ability of computerized neurocognitive testing in combination with symptoms during the subacute recovery phase from sports-related concussion.

Study design: Cohort study (prognosis); Level of evidence, 2.

Methods: In sum, 108 male high school football athletes completed a computer-based neurocognitive test battery within 2.23 days of injury and were followed until returned to play as set by international guidelines. Athletes were grouped into protracted recovery (>14 days; n = 50) or short-recovery (≤14 days; n = 58). Separate discriminant function analyses were performed using total symptom score on Post-Concussion Symptom Scale, symptom clusters (migraine, cognitive, sleep, neuropsychiatric), and Immediate Postconcussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing neurocognitive scores (verbal memory, visual memory, reaction time, processing speed).

Results: Multiple discriminant function analyses revealed that the combination of 4 symptom clusters and 4 neurocognitive composite scores had the highest sensitivity (65.22%), specificity (80.36%), positive predictive value (73.17%), and negative predictive value (73.80%) in predicting protracted recovery. Discriminant function analyses of total symptoms on the Post-Concussion Symptom Scale alone had a sensitivity of 40.81%; specificity, 79.31%; positive predictive value, 62.50%; and negative predictive value, 61.33%. The 4 symptom clusters alone discriminant function analyses had a sensitivity of 46.94%; specificity, 77.20%; positive predictive value, 63.90%; and negative predictive value, 62.86%. Discriminant function analyses of the 4 computerized neurocognitive scores alone had a sensitivity of 53.20%; specificity, 75.44%; positive predictive value, 64.10%; and negative predictive value, 66.15%.

Conclusion: The use of computerized neurocognitive testing in conjunction with symptom clusters results improves sensitivity, specificity, positive predictive value, and negative predictive value of predicting protracted recovery compared with each used alone. There is also a net increase in sensitivity of 24.41% when using neurocognitive testing and symptom clusters together compared with using total symptoms on Post-Concussion Symptom Scale alone.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Athletic Injuries / diagnosis*
  • Brain Concussion / diagnosis*
  • Cohort Studies
  • Discriminant Analysis
  • Forecasting
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Neuropsychological Tests*
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Prognosis
  • Recovery of Function
  • Sensitivity and Specificity