Baseline tests are pre-season tests conducted by healthcare professionals to asses athletes brain function and concussion symptoms. Baseline tests also assess athlete's cognitive ability and balance. The parameters tested may include chemistries, enzyme levels, cell counts etc. Using the baseline test results, medical professionals can evaluate an athlete's response, if any, to therapy.
In the case of footballers, baseline testing is used as a tool in the management of concussion. Since football is a contact sport, the incidence of concussion during the course of either practice or a game is quite high. Since concussion involves a head injury and may not cause any visible symptoms, its diagnosis and management at an early stage can help prevent a permanent disability.
In an effort to provide a safer environment in sports, healthcare authorities have made numerous recommendations backed by research.
These have resulted in a significant reduction in the incidence of fatalities and injuries. For example, the number of brain and cervical spine fatalities in high school football has dropped from thirty six in 1968 to zero in 1990. One of the factors responsible for this fall has been the availability of alternative assessment techniques as well as increased awareness of the consequences of concussion.
The incidence of concussion in sports in the United States has been estimated at 300,000 annually. Some of the common signs of concussion include:
The majority of footballers who experience a concussion will recover completely. However, a few of them may experience chronic cognitive and behavioral problems that are related to recurrent injuries. The first step in the prevention of these cognitive and behavioral problems is the proper assessment of a concussion.
Once a severe injury such as a fracture has been ruled out, evaluation may commence. The first step in the assessment and management of concussions is the baseline testing and post-injury neurocognitive testing. This type of test can help evaluate the footballer's condition after the injury and forms the baseline from which recovery can be measured. This will also help to gauge the time when it is safe for the footballer to return to play. In this way, the cumulative effects of concussion which can cause permanent damage can be prevented.
The assessment of a concussion can be a tricky affair as the healthcare professional conducting the assessment has to first establish whether or not there has been a loss of consciousness (LOC). This can prove to be a difficult task as the footballer may not even be aware of it and the LOC may not have been observed by others. LOC is a relatively rare event, occurring in not more than 10% of all concussions. A footballer who has suffered from LOC, however brief, should be managed very conservatively and should not be allowed to return to play.
In concussion assessment it is useful to note that neurological and radiologic procedures such as CT scans, MRI scans and EEG are not helpful in identifying a concussion. Their role is limited to diagnosing more serious conditions such as fractures and bleeding. Experience has shown that these types of tests often show normal results in cases of concussion.
Following the guidelines laid down by medical experts for concussion management, immediately after the injury, is the best safeguard against lasting and permanent injury.
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