UB Develops Return-to-Play Test for Athletes with Concussion

Study authors, from left, John J. Leddy, MD, Karl Kozlowski, PhD, Barry Willer, PhD

Published June 29, 2011

University at Buffalo researchers have developed a test to determine when it’s safe for athletes to return to play after a concussion.

Currently no standardized method exists to assess when the time is right. It is usually a judgment call made by team physicians.

“We believe this new approach could change the way professional and amateur sports team physicians make decisions about concussion recovery.”
Barry Willer, PhD
professor of psychiatry and rehabilitation medicine and senior author on the paper

The treadmill test devised by UB concussion specialists in the Department of Orthopedics could change that by providing a systematic approach to evaluate readiness.

“In the past, how a team physician and trainer made this decision was left to chance," says Barry Willer, PhD, professor of psychiatry and rehabilitation medicine.

Willer is senior author of a paper titled Reliability of a Graded Exercise Test for Assessing Recovery from Concussion, published in the Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine.

It describes a study involving 21 athletes and non-athletes who came to the UB Concussion Clinic.

A Better Tool to Avoid Serious Injury

Premature return to a sport after concussion greatly increases the risk of a follow-up concussion, with more devastating results than the first.

“We believe this new tool could change the way professional and amateur sports team physicians make decisions about concussion recovery,” says Willer.

Test Reliably Assesses Athlete’s Readiness

“An advantage of the test,” says Willer, “is that it can be carried out by any physician, physical therapist or athletic trainer with a minimum of training, as long as they have access to a treadmill and a heart rate monitor."

The UB researchers found the assessment procedure to be consistent over time.

“"We obtained the same results regardless of who made the assessment,” says Willer. “This controlled exercise assessment procedure is the only approach to determining readiness to return to play that has been proven to be reliable.”

Study Was the Result of Collaboration

Members of the UB research team included John J. Leddy, MD, orthopedist and associate director of the UB Sports Medicine Institute, who is first author on the study.

Additional authors, all from UB, were John G. Baker, PhD, Karl Kozlowski, PhD, and Leslie Bisson, MD, team physician for the Buffalo Sabres.

The research was supported by the Robert Rich Family Foundation and by the Buffalo Sabres Foundation.