Neurosurgical Focus
Volume 57 (2024): Issue 1 (Jul 2024): Concussion and Return to Play

Illustration from Dugan et al. (E13). © Kristen L. Williams, published with permission.

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This issue of Neurosurgical Focus provides an in-depth examination of concussion and return to play or work. This collection of articles delves into the complexities of concussion management within the realm of sports and daily life, a critical issue that intersects with neurosurgery, neuropsychology, and sports medicine. Each contribution is meticulously curated to enhance understanding of concussion pathology, offering comprehensive insights into the nuances of the diagnosis, management, and decision-making processes surrounding when an athlete can safely return to play or routine daily activities.

Starting with a historical perspective on concussion research, the series explores the

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The history behind the biological, mechanistic, and clinical insights into concussion provides awareness of the current understanding and future areas for study. Although the initial description of concussion appeared in the 10th century, the potential long-term structural consequences were first defined by Harrison Martland, M.D., who performed a postmortem study of former boxers in 1928. He found evidence of perivascular microhemorrhage that he believed eventually evolved into a "replacement gliosis" underlying a clinical syndrome that he named "punch drunk," which was characterized by acute confusion with chronic cognitive and physical symptoms developing in those with prolonged exposure. Further research into the potential long-term consequences of repetitive concussions, particularly in athletics and the military, led to an understanding of chronic traumatic encephalopathy. To ameliorate possible long-term risks, research has been focused on preventative and therapeutic measures for concussion. In this review article, the authors present the history of concussion and the long-term sequelae of repeated head injury. Specifically, they consider how the understanding of concussion has evolved from antiquity into the modern era, and how this change in understanding of head injury has led to an appreciation of the fact that its long-term implications sometimes manifest as the clinical and histopathological entity of chronic traumatic encephalopathy.

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OBJECTIVE

Epidemiology provides fundamental opportunities to protect student-athlete health. The goal of this study was to describe the epidemiology of sport-related concussion (SRC) across 8 years (2015/2016–2022/2023) and compare boys’ and girls’ sports for SRC incidence and SRC mechanisms.

METHODS

This was a retrospective cohort study performed using a statewide high school head injury surveillance system of high school student-athletes (n = 2,182,128; boys, n = 1,267,389; girls, n = 914,739). Exposures of interest included study year and boys and girls in comparable sports. Clinical incidence was calculated by dividing SRC counts in each sport by the number of participants per 100 player-seasons and presented with 95% CIs. The 2019/2020 and 2020/2021 data were included in the analysis, however caution is warranted due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Clinical incidence ratios (CIRs) were estimated for sex-comparable sports, and significance was determined if 95% CIs excluded 1.00. The authors compared mechanism of injury in boys’ and girls’ comparable sports with chi-square analyses (p < 0.05).

RESULTS

Among 25,482 total SRCs, the overall clinical incidence of SRC for all boys and girls was 1.17 (95% CI 1.15–1.18) per 100 player-seasons across all years. Across all years, the overall clinical incidence in boys’ sports was 1.34 (95% CI 1.32–1.36) per 100 player-seasons, and 0.93 (95% CI 0.91–0.95) per 100 player-seasons in girls’ sports. Boys’ sports with the highest clinical incidence included football, ice hockey, and wrestling. Girls’ sports with the highest clinical incidence included basketball, soccer, lacrosse, competitive cheer, and gymnastics. Girls consistently had higher SRC rates relative to boys for baseball/softball, basketball, and soccer (CIR range 1.65 [95% CI 1.41–1.93] to 3.32 [95% CI 2.67–4.16]). Girls had lower SRC in lacrosse in 2015/2016 (CIR 0.63, 95% CI 0.40–0.97); no difference in 2016/2017–2020/2021, but had higher clinical incidence in 2021/2022 (CIR 1.69, 95% CI 1.18–2.44) relative to boys. In boys the most common mechanism of SRC occurred from person-to-person contact (n = 8752, 62.8%), whereas girls commonly sustained SRC from person-to-object contact (n = 2369, 33.4%) and from person-to-person contact (n = 2368, 33.4%). There were significant associations between boys’ versus girls’ sports and mechanism of injury within baseball/softball (χ2 = 12.71, p = 0.005); basketball (χ2 = 36.47, p < 0.001); lacrosse (χ2 = 185.15, p < 0.001); and soccer (χ2 = 122.70, p < 0.001).

CONCLUSIONS

These findings can help understand the potential impact of interventions aimed at preventing or reducing SRC. Including girls’ sports within this study extends research for a largely underrepresented group.

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OBJECTIVE

The aim of this study was to compare injury circumstances, characteristics, and clinical management of emergency department (ED) presentations for sports-related concussion (SRC) and non-SRC.

METHODS

This multicenter prospective observational study identified patients 5–17 years old who presented to EDs within 24 hours of head injury, with one or more signs or symptoms of concussion. Participants had a Glasgow Coma Scale score of 13–15 and no abnormalities on CT (if performed). Data were stratified by age: young children (5–8 years), older children (9–12 years), and adolescents (13–17 years).

RESULTS

Of 4709 patients meeting the concussion criteria, non-SRC accounted for 56.3% of overall concussions, including 80.9% of younger child, 51.1% of older child, and 37.0% of adolescent concussions. The most common mechanism of non-SRC was falls for all ages. The most common activity accounting for SRC was bike riding for younger children, and rugby for older children and adolescents. Concussions occurring in sports areas, home, and educational settings accounted for 26.2%, 21.8%, and 19.0% of overall concussions. Concussions occurring in a sports area increased with age, while occurrences in home and educational settings decreased with age. The presence of amnesia significantly differed for SRC and non-SRC for all age groups, while vomiting and disorientation differed for older children and adolescents. Adolescents with non-SRC were admitted to a ward and underwent CT at higher proportions than those with SRC.

CONCLUSIONS

Non-SRC more commonly presented to EDs overall, with SRC more common with increasing age. These data provide important information to inform public health policies, guidelines, and prevention efforts.

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OBJECTIVE

In the United States, more than 1 million sport-related concussions afflict children annually, with many cases undetected or unreported. The Sport Concussion Assessment Tool (SCAT) is widely used to detect concussions in high school, collegiate, and professional sports. The objective of this study was to establish baseline values for the SCAT version 5 (SCAT5) in high school athletes.

METHODS

Baseline SCAT5 evaluations were conducted in students (ages 14–19 years) from 19 high schools in central Illinois who were participating in various school-sponsored sports. The SCAT5 evaluations were retrospectively extracted from the electronic medical record system for analysis. Statistical analyses included the Wilcoxon rank-sum test for continuous variables and the chi-square test for categorical variables, considering significance at p < 0.05. Test-retest reliability at < 6 months, 10–14 months, and 16–20 months was computed using intraclass correlation and Spearman’s rho (ρ). Reliable change indices are provided using the Iverson formula.

RESULTS

A total of 2833 unique athletes were included, and the average age was 15.5 ± 1.14 (SD) years. There were 721 female (25.5%) and 2112 male (74.5%) athletes. Students ≥ 15 years old had more prior concussions (p < 0.001), and male athletes were more frequently hospitalized for head injury (p = 0.013). Female athletes exhibited a significantly higher prevalence of mood disorders (14.7% vs 4.6%, p < 0.001), whereas attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder was more common in male athletes (5.2% vs 13.2%, p < 0.001). Symptom number and severity were significantly greater in female athletes (3.17 ± 4.39 vs 2.08 ± 3.49, p < 0.001; 5.47 ± 9.21 vs 3.52 ± 7.26, p < 0.001, respectively), with mood-related symptoms representing the largest differences. Female athletes and students ≥ 15 years old performed better on most cognitive assessments. Female athletes and students < 15 years old performed better on the modified Balance Error Scoring System (p < 0.001). Test-retest reliability was poor to moderate for most assessment components. Reliable change index cutoff values differed slightly by sex, with female athletes often having a greater cutoff value.

CONCLUSIONS

This study underscores the variability of SCAT5 baseline values influenced by age, sex, and medical history among adolescent athletes. It provides a robust dataset, delineating baseline values stratified by sex and age within this demographic. Additionally, the results provide enhanced guidance to clinicians for interpretation of change and reliability of baselines.

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OBJECTIVE

Concussions are self-limited forms of mild traumatic brain injury (TBI). Gradual return to play (RTP) is crucial to minimizing the risk of second impact syndrome. Online patient educational materials (OPEM) are often used to guide decision-making. Previous literature has reported that grade-level readability of OPEM is higher than recommended by the American Medical Association and the National Institutes of Health. The authors evaluated the readability of OPEM on concussion and RTP.

METHODS

An online search engine was used to identify websites providing OPEM on concussion and RTP. Text specific to concussion and RTP was extracted from each website and readability was assessed using the following six standardized indices: Flesch Reading Ease (FRE), Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level, Gunning Fog Index, Coleman-Liau Index, Simple Measure of Gobbledygook Index, and Automated Readability Index. One-way ANOVA and Tukey’s post hoc test were used to compare readability across sources of information.

RESULTS

There were 59 concussion and RTP articles, and readability levels exceeded the recommended 6th grade level, irrespective of the source of information. Academic institutions published OPEM at simpler readability levels (higher FRE scores). Private organizations published OPEM at more complex (higher) grade-level readability levels in comparison with academic and nonprofit institutions (p < 0.05).

CONCLUSIONS

The readability of OPEM on RTP after concussions exceeds the literacy of the average American. There is a critical need to modify the concussion and RTP OPEM to improve comprehension by a broad audience.

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OBJECTIVE

Postconcussive symptom questionnaires (PCSQs) are often used in concussion patient assessment, yet there is a lack of knowledge as to whether symptom subtype prevalence is dependent on the mechanism of injury (MOI). These subtypes can be defined as cognitive, atlanto-occipital/cervical spine, autonomic, balance, low energy/fatigue/sleep, emotional changes, eyes, and somatic. Using an institutional PCSQ that quantitatively addressed these subtypes, this retrospective study aimed to provide insight into differences in subtype symptomatology between sports-related (SR) and non–sports-related (NSR) injuries.

METHODS

Consecutive concussion patients with Glasgow Coma Scale (GCS) score ≥ 13 and ≥ 16 years of age who were treated at a concussion clinic affiliated with an academic level I trauma center in the United States between December 2009 and January 2020 were eligible for inclusion. The authors extracted data on MOI, comorbidities, habits, prior injuries, and PCSQ results. Multivariate analysis of covariance was then conducted to determine the correlations between subtype scores and MOI while considering covariates.

RESULTS

Of the 194 patients remaining after applying inclusion and exclusion criteria, analysis included 91 patients in the SR group consisting of 54 (59%) males with mean ± SD (range) age of 20.9 ± 7.3 (16–58) years and 103 patients in the NSR group consisting of 38 (37%) males with mean age of 39.2 ± 14.8 (17–71) years. Demographic characteristics differed significantly between groups. Estimated marginal mean scores were significantly lower in the SR injury group compared to the NSR injury group (with comparing main effects) for the cognitive (p < 0.001), autonomic (p < 0.000), balance (p < 0.025), energy (p < 0.006), emotional (p < 0.000), and total score (p < 0.001) subtypes. Multivariate tests identified three comorbidities that contributed to differences in subtype scores between groups: migraines (p < 0.012), vertigo (p < 0.004), and anxiety (p < 0.038). No significant results were found for the remaining comorbidities of (but not limited to) depression, neuropsychiatric disorders, seizures, syncope, sleep disorder, or none.

CONCLUSIONS

The findings indicate that patients who sustain a concussion via an NSR injury present with more severe symptoms but similar concussion subtype frequency as those presenting with SR concussion. This suggests that the MOI may correlate more closely to symptom severity than concussion subtype composition, although larger patient populations with more definitive control of MOI are needed to further elucidate these claims.

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OBJECTIVE

Continued play following concussion can lead to worse outcomes and longer recoveries compared with athletes who immediately report. This has been well documented in youth athletes, while less attention has been paid to collegiate athletes despite differences in healthcare access, recovery trajectories, and additional pressures to play. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to determine if continuing to play immediately following a concussion influenced clinical outcomes and recovery time in collegiate athletes.

METHODS

A prospective, repeated-measures design was used to compare clinical outcomes and recovery time between collegiate athletes who continued playing (n = 37) and those immediately removed (n = 56) after a concussion. Assessments were conducted within 5 days of the concussion and at full medical clearance (FMC; ± 3 days) using the Sport Concussion Assessment Tool-5th edition (SCAT5), Vestibular/Ocular Motor Screening assessment, and High-Level Mobility Assessment Tool. Mann-Whitney U-tests determined differences in clinical outcomes between groups. Cox proportional hazards regression models examined the relationship between factors associated with days to symptom resolution and days to FMC, and covariates were selected a priori based on previous literature. Hazard ratios with 95% CIs were reported for each predictor variable.

RESULTS

Significant differences were found in SCAT5 concentration composite scores (p = 0.010) and SCAT5 delayed recall composite scores (p = 0.045) at the acute visit and near point of convergence average distance (cm; p = 0.005) at the FMC visit between the group who continued to play and those who were immediately removed. There were no differences between groups in days to symptom resolution (10 vs 7 days, p = 0.05) and days to clearance (13 vs 11.50 days, p = 0.13). The association between groups and days to symptom resolution (χ2[4] = 5.052, p = 0.282), and days to clearance (χ2[4] = 3.624, p = 0.459) were not significant when adjusting for covariates.

CONCLUSIONS

Collegiate athletes who continued to play following concussion did not exhibit worse clinical outcomes or recovery times compared with athletes who were immediately removed. While the lack of differences found in this study could be supported by prior literature, including improved education, awareness, reporting attitudes, and concussion management at the collegiate level in recent years, the authors believe discrepancies are more likely due to study-specific differences (e.g., sample size, care setting, and timing). Therefore, these findings should not diminish the dangers of continued play and the importance of timely removal after concussion.

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OBJECTIVE

Prior studies have investigated associations between gender, symptom resolution, and time to return to play following sport-related concussion (SRC). However, there is a notable gap in research regarding the association between gender and return to learn (RTL) in adolescents. Therefore, this study 1) compared the patterns of RTL between boys and girls who are high school student athletes, and 2) evaluated the possible association between gender and time to RTL after adjusting for covariates.

METHODS

A retrospective cohort study of a prospective surveillance program that monitored concussion recovery of athletes in high schools throughout the state of Maine between February 2015 and January 2023 was performed. The primary independent variable was gender, dichotomized as boys and girls. The primary outcome was time to RTL, defined by the number of days for an athlete to return to school without accommodations. Mann-Whitney U-tests were used to compare RTL between the boys and girls. Each athlete’s RTL status was dichotomized (i.e., returned vs had not returned) at several time points following injury (i.e., 1, 2, 3, and 4 weeks), and chi-square tests were performed to compare the proportions who achieved RTL between groups. Multivariable linear regression analyses were performed to evaluate the predictive value of gender on RTL. Covariates included age, number of previous concussions, history of learning disability or attention-deficit disorder or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, history of a psychological condition, history of headaches or migraines, initial Sport Concussion Assessment Tool (SCAT3/SCAT5) score, and days to evaluation.

RESULTS

Of 895 high school athletes, 488 (54.5%) were boys and 407 (45.5%) were girls. There was no statistically significant difference in median [IQR] days to RTL between genders (6.0 [3.0–11.0] vs 6.0 [3.0–12.0] days; U = 84,365.00, p < 0.375). A greater proportion of boys successfully returned to learn without accommodations by 3 weeks following concussion (93.5% vs 89.4%; χ2 = 4.68, p = 0.030), but no differences were found at 1, 2, or 4 weeks. A multivariable model predicting days to RTL showed that gender was not a significant predictor of RTL (p > 0.05). Longer days to evaluation (β = 0.10, p = 0.021) and higher initial SCAT3/SCAT5 scores (β = 0.15, p < 0.001) predicted longer RTL.

CONCLUSIONS

In a cohort of high school athletes, RTL did not differ between boys and girls following SRC. Gender was not a significant predictor of RTL. Longer days to evaluation and higher initial symptom scores were associated with longer RTL.

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OBJECTIVE

Psychological symptoms following a sport-related concussion may affect recovery in adolescent athletes. Therefore, the aims of this study were to 1) describe the proportion of athletes with acute psychological symptoms, 2) identify potential predictors of higher initial psychological symptoms, and 3) determine whether psychological symptoms affect recovery in a cohort of concussed high school athletes.

METHODS

A retrospective cohort study of high school athletes (14–18 years of age) who sustained a sport-related concussion from November 2017 to April 2022 and presented to a multidisciplinary concussion center was performed. The main independent variable was psychological symptom cluster score, calculated by summing the four affective symptoms on the initial Post-Concussion Symptom Scale (PCSS) (i.e., irritability, sadness, nervousness, feeling more emotional). The psychological symptom ratio was defined as the ratio of the psychological symptom cluster score divided by the total initial PCSS score. The outcomes included time to return to learn (RTL), symptom resolution, and time to return to play (RTP). Univariable and multivariable regressions were performed to adjust for demographic factors and health history.

RESULTS

A total of 431 athletes (58.0% female, mean age 16.2 ± 1.3 years) were included. Nearly half of the sample (45%) reported at least one psychological symptom, with a mean psychological symptom cluster score of 4.2 ± 5.2 and psychological symptom cluster ratio of 0.10 ± 0.11. Irritability was the most commonly endorsed psychological symptom (38.1%), followed by feeling more emotional (30.2%), nervousness (25.3%), and sadness (22.0%). Multivariable regression showed that female sex (B = 2.15, 95% CI 0.91–3.39; p < 0.001), loss of consciousness (B = 1.91, 95% CI 0.11–3.72; p = 0.037), retrograde/anterograde amnesia (B = 1.66, 95% CI 0.20–3.11; p = 0.026), and psychological history (B = 2.96, 95% CI 1.25–4.70; p < 0.001) predicted an increased psychological symptom cluster score. Female sex (B = 0.03, 95% CI 0.00–0.06; p = 0.031) and psychological history (B = 0.06, 95% CI 0.02–0.10; p = 0.002) predicted an increased psychological symptom ratio. Multivariable linear regression showed that both higher psychological symptom cluster score and ratio were associated with longer times to RTL, symptom resolution, and RTP.

CONCLUSIONS

In a cohort of high school athletes, 45% reported at least one psychological symptom, with irritability being most common. Female sex, loss of consciousness, amnesia, and a psychological history were significantly associated with an increased psychological symptom cluster score. Higher psychological symptom cluster score and psychological symptom ratio independently predicted longer recovery. These results reinforce the notion that psychological symptoms after concussion are common and may negatively impact recovery.

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OBJECTIVE

Concussions can occur at any level of ice hockey. Incidence estimates of concussions in ice hockey vary, and optimal prevention strategies and return-to-play (RTP) considerations have remained in evolution. The authors performed a mixed-methods study with the aim of elucidating the landscape of concussion in ice hockey and catalyzing initiatives to standardize preventative mechanisms and RTP considerations.

METHODS

The authors performed a five-part mixed-methods study that includes: 1) an analysis of the impact of concussions on games missed and income for National Hockey League (NHL) players using a publicly available database, 2) a systematic review of the incidence of concussion in ice hockey, 3) a systematic review of preventative strategies, 4) a systematic review of RTP, and 5) a policy review of documents from major governing bodies related to concussions in sports with a focus on ice hockey. The PubMed, Embase, and Scopus databases were used for the systematic reviews and focused on any level of hockey.

RESULTS

In the NHL, 689 players had 1054 concussions from the 2000–2001 to 2022–2023 seasons. A concussion led to a mean of 13.77 ± 19.23 (range 1–82) games missed during the same season. After cap hit per game data became available in 2008–2009, players missed 10,024 games due to 668 concussions (mean 15.13 ± 3.81 per concussion, range 8.81–22.60 per concussion), with a cap hit per game missed of $35,880.85 ± $25,010.48 (range $5792.68–$134,146.30). The total cap hit of all missed games was $385,960,790.00, equating to $577,635.91 per concussion and $25,724,052.70 per NHL season. On systematic review, the incidence of concussions was 0.54–1.18 per 1000 athlete-exposures. Prevention mechanisms involved education, behavioral and cognitive interventions, protective equipment, biomechanical studies, and policy/rule changes. Rules prohibiting body checking in youth players were most effective. Determination of RTP was variable. Concussion protocols from both North American governing bodies and two leagues mandated that a player suspected of having a concussion be removed from play and undergo a six-step RTP strategy. The 6th International Conference on Concussion in Sport recommended the use of mouthguards for children and adolescents and disallowing body checking for all children and most levels of adolescents.

CONCLUSIONS

Concussions in ice hockey lead to substantial missed time from play. The authors strongly encourage all hockey leagues to adopt and adhere to age-appropriate rules to limit hits to the head, increase compliance in wearing protective equipment, and utilize high-quality concussion protocols.

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OBJECTIVE

This study aimed to determine the validity of quantitative pupillometry to predict the length of time for return to full activity/duty after a mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI) in a cohort of injured cadets at West Point.

METHODS

Each subject received baseline (T0) quantitative pupillometry, in addition to evaluation with the Balance Error Scoring System (BESS), Standardized Assessment of Concussion (SAC), and Sport Concussion Assessment Tool 5th Edition Symptom Survey (SCAT5). Repeat assessments using the same parameters were conducted within 48 hours of injury (T1), at the beginning of progressive return to activity (T2), and at the completion of progressive return to activity protocols (T3). Pupillary metrics were compared on the basis of length of time to return to full play/duty and the clinical scores.

RESULTS

The authors’ statistical analyses found correlations between pupillometry measures at T1, including end-initial diameter and maximum constriction velocity, with larger change and faster constriction predicting earlier return to play. There was also an association with maximum constriction velocity at baseline (T0), predicting faster return to play.

CONCLUSIONS

The authors conclude that that pupillometry may be a valuable tool for assessing time to return to duty from mTBI by providing a measure of baseline resiliency to mTBI and/or autonomic dysfunction in the acute phase after mTBI.

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OBJECTIVE

Baseball and softball pose unique risks for sport-related concussion (SRC). Although these are not collision sports, concussions in baseball and softball can nonetheless involve high-speed impacts. In a regional, single-institution cohort of baseball and softball athletes who sustained an SRC, the current study sought to 1) describe the mechanisms of injury that led to SRC, and 2) compare initial symptom burden and recovery metrics across mechanisms, including time to return to learn (RTL), time to symptom resolution, and time to return to play (RTP) by mechanism of injury.

METHODS

A retrospective cohort study was performed of baseball and softball athletes 12 to 23 years old who sustained an SRC between November 2017 and April 2022. Mechanisms of injury were divided into two categories: 1) contact mechanism (i.e., what initiated contact with the injured player, such as head-to-ball), and 2) player mechanism (i.e., the action the injured player was performing at the time of injury, such as fielding). The recovery outcomes of time to RTL, symptom resolution, and RTP were compared between mechanisms using bivariate analysis and multivariable regression analysis, controlling for sex, age, time to present to concussion clinic, and initial total symptom score.

RESULTS

The sample included 58 baseball and softball players (60.3% female, mean age 16.0 ± 1.9 years). Most SRCs (62.1%) occurred during competition. Head-to-ball (50.0%) was the most common contact mechanism, followed by head-to-head/body (31.0%) and head-to-wall/ground/equipment (17.2%). Fielding (63.8%) was the most common player mechanism, followed by drills (20.7%) and running (13.8%). SRCs sustained in practice had significantly longer RTL (median 10.0 [interquartile range (IQR) 3.3–16.3] vs 4.0 [IQR 2.0–8.0] days; U = 421.5, p = 0.031) and symptom resolution (37.0 [IQR 18.0–90.0] vs 14.0 [IQR 7.0–41.0] days; U = 406.5, p = 0.025) compared with SRCs sustained in competition. Multivariable regression analysis revealed that head-to-wall/ground/equipment contact mechanism was associated with longer RTL (β = 0.30, 95% CI 0.07–0.54, p = 0.013).

CONCLUSIONS

The current study found that SRCs in baseball and softball occurred more often in competition than in practice. Head-to-ball and fielding were the most common contact and player mechanisms, respectively. SRCs sustained in practice were associated with longer time to RTL and symptom resolution, and head-to-wall/ground/equipment was associated with longer RTL in multivariable regression analysis. These results provide empirical data to improve concussion safety in baseball/softball.

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OBJECTIVE

Few large studies have investigated the factors and outcomes related to concomitant injuries occurring alongside mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI) after motor vehicle collisions (MVCs). Thus, the objective of this study was to assess whether MVC characteristics predict which patients with mTBI will have concomitant whiplash injury, and whether concomitant whiplash injury affects care utilization for these patients.

METHODS

This retrospective cohort study included 22,213 patients with mTBI after MVC identified from the American College of Surgeons Trauma Quality Programs dataset. A hierarchical logistic regression model was constructed to investigate patient and MVC factors associated with concomitant whiplash injury. Propensity score matching on whiplash status, in conjunction with a multivariable logistic regression model, assessed if concomitant whiplash affected odds of hospitalization. In the subgroup of patients who were hospitalized, associations with hospital length of stay (LOS) and discharge disposition were investigated.

RESULTS

The median (IQR) age was 34 (24–51) years, with a median Glasgow Coma Scale score at presentation of 15 (15–15). Patients with concomitant whiplash were older (median 36 years vs 34 years, p = 0.03) and had higher rates of hospitalization (75% vs 64%, p < 0.001). In the hierarchical model for associations with concomitant whiplash injury, patients with blood alcohol content (BAC) greater than the federal driving limit had lower odds of concomitant whiplash (OR 0.63, 95% CI 0.49–0.81) along with those who had airbag deployment (OR 0.80, 95% CI 0.68–0.95), but seatbelt use was associated with greater odds (OR 1.41, 95% CI 1.16–1.71). After matching, concomitant whiplash was independently associated with increased odds of hospitalization (OR 1.67, 95% CI 1.40–1.99) while seatbelt use was associated with decreased odds (OR 0.88, 95% CI 0.81–0.95). Among hospitalized patients, concomitant whiplash was not associated with hospital LOS or discharge disposition.

CONCLUSIONS

MVC characteristics such as alcohol consumption and airbag deployment were protective toward development of concomitant whiplash for mTBI patients, while seatbelt use was associated with higher risk. Concomitant whiplash increases the odds of hospitalization for mTBI patients but does not affect hospital LOS or discharge disposition, while seatbelt use is associated with lower rates of hospitalization and a more favorable hospital course. These findings provide context to injury patterns and care provision after a common mechanism of injury.

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OBJECTIVE

While the clinical presentations of COVID-19 and concussion are not identical, there is a significant overlap in symptomology (e.g., fatigue, headache) and neurological deficits (e.g., cognitive, vestibular). However, limited research has examined the effect of prior COVID-19 diagnosis on concussion outcomes. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to determine if prior diagnosis of COVID-19 influences concussion outcomes, including concussion assessment scores and recovery time, in college-aged individuals.

METHODS

A prospective study of college-aged individuals (COVID-19: n = 43, mean age 21.3 [SD 2.5] years; no COVID-19: n = 51, mean age 21.0 [SD 2.5] years) diagnosed with concussion was conducted. Demographics, injury details, the Sport Concussion Assessment Tool 5th Edition (SCAT5), and the Vestibular/Ocular Motor Screening (VOMS) were completed at the acute (within 5 days after concussion) and full medical clearance (FMC) (within 3 days after FMC) visits. Mann-Whitney U-tests determined differences in concussion outcomes between groups. Cox proportional hazards regression models were fitted to assess the relationship between factors associated with concussion symptom resolution and days to FMC, and covariates were selected based on previous literature indicating potential confounds (e.g., female sex, acute symptom severity, preexisting mental health conditions). Hazard ratios with 95% confidence intervals were reported for each predictor variable.

RESULTS

No significant differences were found between groups for SCAT5 and VOMS composite and total scores. Significant differences were found between COVID-19 and no–COVID-19 groups in days to symptom resolution (11.5 days vs 8 days, p = 0.021), but not in days to FMC (14 days vs 12 days, p = 0.099). The association between COVID-19 groups and days to clearance was not significant when adjusting for sex, race, history of depression/anxiety, and total number of concussion symptoms at the acute visit [χ2(5) = 8.349, p = 0.138]. However, male sex (HR 2.036, 95% CI 1.033–4.014; p = 0.040) was associated with a quicker time to FMC.

CONCLUSIONS

Prior COVID-19 diagnosis did not influence cognitive abilities and vestibular/ocular functioning as measured by the SCAT5 and VOMS postconcussion. While prior COVID-19 diagnosis did result in a significantly longer duration to symptom resolution when compared with individuals who did not have a prior COVID-19 diagnosis, prior COVID-19 did not significantly influence time to FMC by a healthcare provider. Clinicians should consider that individuals with a prior diagnosis of COVID-19 might experience prolonged symptoms postconcussion.

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