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Concussion baseline testing: What is it? And is it necessary?

August 18, 2022

You may have heard something about a concussion baseline test and wondered…“What is that?!” “Does my child have to have a concussion to take it?” and “Is it worth my time?”

This article will answer all of those questions and more.

What is Concussion Baseline Testing?

Concussion baseline testing is a pre-season exam that trained healthcare professionals use to evaluate an athlete’s brain function before they engage in a sport that puts them at risk for a concussion. The test assesses things like…

  • Learning and memory skills
  • Ability to concentrate and pay close attention
  • Problem-solving capabilities
  • And more!

Healthcare providers use these results from this initial test as a comparative baseline to evaluate the extent and seriousness of a suspected concussion during the sports season.

Is Baseline Testing Mandatory?

No, baseline testing is not mandatory. However, it can be very helpful to a healthcare provider if your child ever does suffer a concussion.

According to the Consensus Statement on Concussion in Sport from the 5th International Conference on Concussion in Sports held in Berlin in October 2016, “Baseline or pre-season neuropsychological testing was considered by the panel and was not felt to be required as a mandatory aspect of every assessment; however, it may be helpful or add useful information to the overall interpretation of these tests. It also provides an additional educative opportunity for the healthcare provider to discuss the significance of this injury with the athlete.”

Most concussion clinics do not require a baseline test, but it can make helping the patient a lot easier and more accurate. Let’s talk about the advantages and disadvantages of baseline testing!

The Benefits of Baseline Testing

The Mount Olive Family Medicine team has experienced many benefits of baseline testing as a trusted provider of concussion care. When evaluating a patient with a concussion and conducting a neurocognitive test, baseline test results allow us to make sure we are comparing the patient’s current brain function to their own personal average (rather than a general estimated average of other athletes their age). This means we can be confident that our post-injury assessments are accurate for that unique patient. If a patient’s post-injury scores fall well below their baseline scores, we need to carefully consider where the deficits are and if it is safe to begin returning to cognitive (school) and physical (sport) activity.

Additionally, the testing also helps the provider determine which type of academic accommodations the athlete may need, avoiding any unnecessary restraints but providing the appropriate level of assistance for the specific components of brain function that are affected by the concussion.

Also, if a patient has a difficult time with test-taking during normal circumstances, accurate interpretation of the post-injury test can be even more difficult. Having a baseline helps the provider make better use of the post-concussion test. A baseline test is an especially good idea if the patient struggles with any pre-existing conditions that tend to affect performance on neurocognitive tests – like anxiety, fatigue, motor impairments, and above-average effort when test-taking.

Another large benefit of concussion baseline testing is that it offers a key opportunity for healthcare providers to further a patient’s concussion education. During a MOFMC baseline test, patients typically learn how to recognize concussion signs and symptoms and what to do if they suspect they have a concussion – awareness that can aid significantly with recovery.

The Drawbacks of Baseline Testing

Unfortunately, schools and Athletic Directors sometimes opt not to offer baseline testing for their athletes. Why? Some of the biggest reasons include…

  • The cost associated with testing (they must pay the healthcare provider to conduct the testing).
  • The time it takes to conduct the testing (about one hour).
  • And the difficulty of getting a large group of athletes to take the exam seriously and stay quiet and concentrated enough for effective testing. HOWEVER, many sports medicine and concussion clinics make baseline testing efficient and easy by going to the athlete’s school or hosting sessions within the local community. Many providers – like Mount Olive Family Medicine Center – even make group baseline tests available for FREE, at no cost to the school or family.

HOWEVER, many sports medicine and concussion clinics make baseline testing efficient and easy by going to the athlete’s school or hosting sessions within the local community. Many providers – like Mount Olive Family Medicine Center – even make group baseline tests available for FREE, at no cost to the school or family.

Mount Olive Family Medicine Center | Concussion Clinic

Concerned that you or your child may be at risk for a concussion? Before scheduling an appointment with the Mount Olive Family Medicine Concussion Clinic, each patient must be diagnosed with a concussion either by their primary care provider, a provider at the Emergency Department, or by an MOFMC Walk-in Clinic provider.

Once you have a diagnosis, set an appointment with our Concussion Clinic by calling Dr. Long at 919-658-4954 ext. 1040.

Have more questions about baseline testing or our Concussion Clinic? Visit our Concussion Clinic page or call us at 919-658-4954.

McCrory P, Meeuwisse W, Dvorak J, et al. Consensus statement on concussion in sport—the 5th international conference on concussion in sport held in Berlin, October 2016 Br J Sports Med Published Online First: [please include Day Month Year]. doi:10.1136/ bjsports-2017-097699

Johnson-Greene, D. Secondary Influences on Neuropsychological Test Performance. Archives of Clinical Neuropsychology, Volume 28, Issue 8, December 2013, Pages 866–867, https://doi.org/10.1093/arclin/act063

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