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Understanding Abnormal Examination Findings During Concussion Recovery: A Retrospective Chart Review.

BACKGROUND AND OBJECTIVE: Physical examination findings in athletes with sport-related concussion (SRC) are not well described in the literature. The objective of this study was to describe physical examination findings during the first month following concussion in athletes, with a focus on the effect of sex, age, and time since injury.

METHODS: This was a retrospective electronic medical record (EMR) review of physical examination findings in 500 patients aged 6-24 who were initially seen within 15 days of SRC at a multidisciplinary outpatient academic concussion clinic between 2017 and 2019. A standardized concussion examination built in the EMR recorded mental status, cranial nerve, vestibulo-ocular motor screen, and balance findings for all patients. The primary outcome was the frequency of abnormal examination findings during the first 30 days postinjury, which was further analyzed by sex, age, and time since injury using mixed logistic regression models.

RESULTS: The most common abnormal examination findings overall were eyes-closed single-leg stance, vestibular-ocular reflex, visual motion sensitivity, the neck examination, and eyes-closed tandem stance. Abnormal findings were more frequent in female athletes for vestibular ocular reflex and visual motion sensitivity. The frequency of abnormal findings increased with age for vestibulo-ocular reflex, visual motion sensitivity, the neck examination, convergence testing, and eyes-open single-leg stance, whereas abnormalities decreased in frequency with age for eyes-open tandem stance and tandem gait. The frequency of abnormal findings generally decreased with time over the first 4 weeks following injury.

DISCUSSION: A comprehensive physical examination is pivotal for evaluation of athletes with concussion. These findings highlight high-yield components of the concussion examination and support use of these examination components as injury markers. Future work should investigate associations between physical examination findings and postconcussion symptoms and recovery outcomes.

CLASSIFICATION OF EVIDENCE: This retrospective cohort study provides Class IV evidence that neurologic examination with specifically designed clinical tests are helpful for diagnosis of traumatic brain injury in young athletes at age 6-24.

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