How is a concussion diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask about the event leading to your head injury, your symptoms and perform a neurological exam. The neurological exam will check your:

  • Neurological function and reflexes.
  • Vision, eye movement, reaction to light.
  • Balance and coordination.
  • Hearing.
  • Strength.
  • Neck muscles for their motion and for tenderness

Verbal, written or computerized tests may be used to check your:

  • Thinking ability.
  • Problem-solving skills.
  • Memory and concentration.

You will also be asked if you’ve experienced mood changes, sleeping changes or any changes in behavior.

Imaging with CT scan or MRI isn’t always needed in the early evaluation of concussion. This is because most of the effects of a concussion aren’t seen on imaging. However, these imaging tests might be ordered if more serious effects of a concussion are suspected – like bleeding inside the skull, brain swelling or spinal cord or cervical spine injury – or if symptoms are worsening.

What tests can be used to assess my athlete’s brain to see if they are ready to go back to school or sport?

After the hands on neurological examination is complete, other neuropsychological tests can be used to assess a student-athlete’s ability to go back to school and sport.

ImPACT neuropsychological test

The immediate post-concussion assessment and cognitive test (ImPACT) is a concussion management tool used to help diagnose and evaluate student athletes. This computerized test measures a student athlete’s visual and verbal memory, reaction time, and processing speed.

The 30-minute test is ideally performed before the start of a sport season (a baseline test) and after a head injury (at various time points). Evaluating the test results and comparing with the baseline test helps care providers (healthcare, educational or sports organizations) document brain function and see if it has returned back to a student athlete’s healthy normal. It can assist with treatment decisions and help determine when it’s safe for a student athlete to return to their activity.

Hospital or Organization Concussion App

Some sports health centers within hospital systems have developed their own concussion app. These tablet-based, mobile tools are used to report and assess concussion and symptoms.

After baseline data are collected, the app can be used to document the athlete’s description of injury, track symptoms over time, detect loss of brain and memory function, and to help guide the athlete to a return to physical activity in order to get back to sport. The app compares assessments of balance, reaction time, information processing, coordination, memory, and vision after an injury to the athlete’s baseline and normative data. The app-based assessment can show the areas of most concern and help guide treatment and therapies over time.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 06/02/2020.


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