What Is Baseline Concussion Testing?

Concussion testing plays a vital role in ensuring proper evaluation, diagnosis, management, treatment, and return to play decisions for concussions. Experts at the UPMC Sports Medicine Concussion Program use the ImPACT® test for both baseline and post-injury testing.

Some of our team at UPMC even helped to develop this test. If you play sports or have athletes in your life, here’s what you need to know about concussion testing.

What Is Baseline Concussion Testing?

Baseline testing measures your brain function in a normal, healthy state — before a concussion.

If you happen to get a concussion, doctors will test you again and use your scores to help decide:

  • What type of concussion you may have.
  • How to create a treatment plan customized to you.
  • When it’s safe for you to return to your sport or activities.

What Is ImPACT?

ImPACT (immediate post-concussion assessment and cognitive testing) is a computer-based assessment tool. It’s the most effective tool for measuring a person’s typical neurocognitive state to gather baseline data for diagnosing and managing concussions.

Pioneered by some of the experts who later began the UPMC Sports Medicine Concussion Program, ImPACT sets a normal brain function baseline.

There are two types of tests:

  • Adult ImPACT — for ages 10 and up.
  • Pediatric ImPACT — for ages 5-9.

How Does ImPACT Work?

The computer-based adult and tablet-based children’s ImPACT tests take about 20 minutes.

They look at and record many aspects of an athlete’s cognitive state, such as:

  • Verbal and visual memory.
  • Brain processing speed.
  • Reaction time.

These tests alone do not diagnose a concussion. Experts use them to get baseline data on an athlete’s “normal” state as part of the assessment process for head trauma management.

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How Pediatric and Adult ImPACT Testing Differ

In place of the adult test for those ages 10 and up, the pediatric ImPACT test is for children ages 5-9.

Children are different from adults — physically, mentally, and cognitively. The children’s version of ImPACT, which the FDA approved in August 2016, is mindful of these developmental differences. In fact, 89% of users rate the subtests as fun and easy to understand.

Experts have adapted the adult version of this thorough exam to make it more effective for kids in the following ways:

  • Questions are at the child’s developmental level and use simple terms. For instance, we use “tummy ache” instead of nausea and “tired” rather than fatigue.
  • We want to make the child feel at ease. Even something as simple as having a proper chair for them can help. Some kids get nervous sitting on the exam table and associate it with having to get a shot.
  • The interviewer follows up on discrepancies between what the child reports and what the parent reports. Kids may tend to overreport some issues that parents might deny, such as trouble sleeping and nausea. And parents tend to overreport some issues that kids deny, such as moodiness and cognitive issues.
  • The test stimuli for the pediatric ImPACT are more suited for their age. For example, the section that tests processing speed or reaction times becomes a “stop and go” traffic light game. And to measure visual memory, we use a matching game with animals and food.
  • Children take the test on a tablet instead of a computer to allow for better engagement.

Because a child’s brain is still developing, it may prove more prone to injury and take more time to recover.

In addition to a complete assessment, ImPACT can help with the diagnosis of a concussion. When diagnosed, we can design a custom treatment plan and start rehab.

Who Should Have an ImPACT Test?

UPMC Sports Medicine Concussion Program experts advise baseline concussion testing:

  • Each year for kids 12 and under.
  • Every two years for those 13 and older.

UPMC Sports Medicine offers year-round baseline testing sessions at the UPMC Freddie Fu Sports Medicine Center and the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex for:

  • Student-athletes.
  • Parents.
  • Coaches.
  • Certified athletic trainers.
  • Other health care workers.

We also partner with the Pittsburgh Penguins Foundation on the HeadsUP Pittsburgh program. Each summer, this program brings free and discounted baseline testing to a neighborhood near you.

For ImPACT testing and questions, please call 1-855-937-7678.

Post-Concussion Neurocognitive Testing

Post-injury concussion testing helps experts make decisions about treatment by comparing the healthy brain function ImPACT baseline test data to the possibly altered brain function ImPACT post-injury test data. When an athlete suffers a concussion, post-injury testing and treatment are crucial.

Our concussion experts use the baseline data as part of the post-injury exam. They may also conduct other brain function tests to better manage each athlete’s specific case.

If you or your child sustained a concussion before taking the ImPACT test, we suggest seeking care from our concussion experts.

Why Choose UPMC Sports Medicine for ImPACT Testing?

UPMC Sports Medicine is a certified adult ImPACT and pediatric ImPACT consultation testing center. This means we have the training, knowledge, and experience that come with completing the credentialed ImPACT consultant program.

Our team also has the expertise to use an athlete’s baseline data to customize and improve concussion treatment and recovery.

To learn more or schedule an appointment with the UPMC Sports Medicine Concussion Program, please call 412-432-3681 or complete our contact form.

About Sports Medicine

An athletic lifestyle carries the potential for injury. Whether you’re an elite athlete or a weekend warrior, UPMC Sports Medicine can help. If you are looking to prevent, treat, or rehabilitate a sports injury, our multidisciplinary team of experts can help you get back into the game. If you are seeking to improve your athletic performance, we can work with you to meet your goals. We serve athletes and active people of all ages and experience levels. Our goal is to help you keep doing what you love. Visit our website to find a specialist near you.