April 30, 2012
COLUMBUS, Ohio – There is no magic test to determine when an athlete is ready to get back into the game after they have suffered a head injury. Researchers have started using an interactive video game, a tool many athletes are already using in rehabilitation, to test balance for concussion assessment and management.
The reliability of the video game for assessing athletes’ concussions has not been confirmed, but a study by a sports medicine researcher from The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center may provide insight to the use of the Nintendo’s Wii Fit for concussion management. Team athletic trainers often determine whether an athlete has a concussion based on their physical examination, cognitive ability, self-report of symptoms and balance.
"Student athletes love it because we have incorporated fun into their rehabilitation and concussion assessment," said Tamerah Hunt, director of research at the OSU’s Sports Medicine Concussion Program. “For many school districts, it is an affordable option and can be portable, making it convenient for sideline testing and travel with the team for away games.”
Researchers from Ohio State and the University of Maryland are conducting baseline testing for concussion management in collegiate athletes, and will soon do the same among high-school athletes.
Recent concussion guidelines suggest postural control is an important part of the assessment process, which makes balance an important piece of information in determining recovery from a head injury.
“It’s not the perfect system, but can be considered as an option to provide basic objective information about balance,” said Hunt, whose previous research includes examining concussion recovery patterns among high school students in several states.
“It’s another tool to have in our toolkit because determining when an athlete has recovered can be subjective,” Hunt admits.
“Athletes are more likely to engage with a video game than to take another boring concussion test or admit they are still hurt,” said Hunt. “We currently base much of our assessment on an athlete telling us about their symptoms. The video game allows us to broadly analyze center of gravity, to help us be more objective.”
Athletes participate in three different yoga poses as demonstrated on the Wii Fit game and are given a score which determines how well the athlete maintained center of balance. Baseline testing provides athletic trainers with an idea of how an athlete normally functions. If an athlete suffers a head injury at a later date, the athletic trainer can assess the balance of the athlete compared to their normal ability.
According to Hunt, an athletic trainer must obtain the baseline measures to compare the athlete to themselves because everyone performs differently.
Preliminary data suggests a moderate correlation to current methods used in concussion assessment, ranging from 0.75-0.82, depending on the stance.
“Additional studies need to be performed to determine the long-term reliability of the measures and other factors associated with test scores, such as fatigue,” said Hunt.
This is just the beginning of studies using alternative measures of balance assessment like the Wii Fit for concussion management. The National Collegiate Athletic Association concussion guidelines support using the video game as a postural assessment tool. It is not yet approved as a medical device by the Food and Drug Administration.
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