Could hand movements altered by concussion be the next behavioral marker for diagnosis?

A team of researchers have discovered differences in hand movements between concussed and non-concussed athletes, suggesting potential of a new behavioral marker for concussion diagnosis.

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Many athletes are at risk of sustaining a concussion, especially in contact sports, such as ice hockey or American football. However, it can be a challenge for sport medics to complete a diagnosis during competitions or training.

Findings from a recent retrospective, cross-sectional study published in the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, demonstrated that non-verbal hand movements differ between athletes with concussion and those without, suggesting that this could act as a clear marker for diagnosis.

At the final of the 2014 Football World Cup, German midfielder, Christopher Kramer reported to not be able to remember much of the game following a collision with another player. This sparked a growing number of debates around the question of sport-related concussion and how to efficiently diagnose players during games.

Many of the symptoms of concussion are often not clearly visible and can be ambiguous, which creates the challenge around diagnosis. However, researchers from the Institute for Exercise Therapy and Movement-Oriented Prevention and Rehabilitation (Cologne, Germany) discovered that non-verbal hand movement offers additional information concerning athlete’s state of health, specifically with respect to post-concussion symptoms.

After comparing the hand movements of three matched groups: symptomatic athletes with a concussion, asymptomatic athletes and non-concussed athletes, the team discovered non-verbal behavior and hand movements differ between the groups. 

Symptomatic athletes are more likely to perform ‘motion quality presentation gestures’, which reflects a more vivid motor experience of the head trauma. Further, hand movements were also able to differentiate between athletes who had post-concussion symptoms and those who did not. 

The findings from the current study have the potential of creating new behavioral markers that could help clinicians gain additional information about the patient’s history and improve sport-related concussion diagnosis.

Source: Helmich I, Reinecke KCH, Meuter K et al. Symptoms after sport-related concussions alter gestural functions. J. Sci. Med. Sport. doi:10.1016/j.jsams.2019.11.013 (2019) (Epub ahead of print);

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Kimberley Ndungu

Editor, Concussion Zone

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