Personal Injury

Baseline testing important part of concussion protocol

By Kirsten McMahon, Managing Editor

Baseline testing is effective because it provides third-party independent insight as to whether an athlete is able to return to a sport following a suspected concussion, Toronto personal injury lawyer Alison Burrison tells

“It takes the decision out of the hands of the athlete who — especially in high-performance sports — may be desperate to get back to the game,” says Burrison, founder of Burrison Law. “Baseline testing also takes the decision-making out of the hands of the coach or the organization who might have ulterior motives for wanting an athlete back on the team.”

The recently released national concussion guidelines from the Canadian Olympic and Paralympic Sport Institute Network recommends baseline testing for Canadian athletes in high-performance sports. This testing involves a combination of neuropsychological and physical tests that are conducted on a non-injured athlete to provide a reference point in case of a future injury.

“During the pre-season, or prior to the first day of competition, it is suggested that an athlete undergo a battery of tests providing a baseline for future comparisons,” The Canadian Press reports.

Burrison, who represents children who have suffered catastrophic injuries and their families, says baseline testing can be utilized in all types of sports, not just those that are high-performance.

“The cognitive and physical testing helps measure a person’s reactions, perception, ability to answer quickly, etc., so if they are in a concussion situation, they can go back and retake the test,” she says. “If, for example, the reaction times are slower post-concussion than when they took the testing six months ago, even though they may feel fine, their brain needs more time to recover.

“That's the hard part about measuring when someone is ready to come back after a concussion,” Burrison says, adding that the damage is usually invisible on MRIs. “This testing can flag that something is off, and the athlete should wait a few weeks until they return to their baseline.”

Burrison says the testing works hand in hand with Rowan’s Law, which established protocols for players to ensure they are taken out of a game if a concussion is suspected. The Ontario legislation is named after Rowan Stringer, a 17-year-old who died after suffering two concussions within a week while playing rugby.

Burrison says it’s imperative that any youth sports organization looking to incorporate baseline testing make sure it is administered by practitioners who specialize in pediatric concussions.

“The testing for children and youths is very different,” Burrison says. “The brain is continuing to grow, and if a child is playing hockey or football and they're getting concussions, for example, how they need to be treated, their baseline and ability to return-to-play are going to be very different than a 25-year-old."

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