It is common for an athlete participating in a contact sport such as football to be misdiagnosed when they experience a head injury. University at Buffalo [sic]  researchers released their findings that symptoms are incredibly similar between a concussion, neck damage (cervical injury), and injury to equilibrium mechanisms (vestibular injury).

The study, as reported by Science Daily, analyzed self-reporting by 128 individuals, including several who participate in pro sports, at the University’s Concussion Management Clinic. A report on the concussion research was featured in the Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine in July.

The goal of the review of symptoms of pain in the pool of patients was to delineate the symptomatic differences between cervical/vestibular injury and those of concussion.

Dr. John J. Leddy, the lead researcher, said that people who are diagnosed with a concussion and who continue to experience symptoms of pain for 60 days or more have sometimes experienced a neck injury (instead of, or as a complement to, the concussion).

Dr. Leddy, an M.D., was inspired to conduct the study by his direct experience with patients not recovering as expected. He said that some of the patients at UB exhibited the symptoms of post-concussion syndrome, which can include neck pain, but were not free of symptoms once they had cleared treadmill monitoring – a benchmark that Leddy notes “indicates full recovery from concussion.”

Specificity lacking between concussion and neck injury

Leddy said that the primary reason misdiagnosis is widespread is that the commonly understood symptoms for concussion injury and cervical injury are vague. Rather than using the established symptoms of pain and malfunction, then, the clinical orthopaedics professor and his colleagues were driven to find other differentiating characteristics.

In order to correctly place study participants into concussion and cervical damage categories, the scientists utilized a variation on the treadmill test (created by Leddy and psychiatry professor Dr. Barry Willer) previously used to gauge patient progress.

Why proper diagnosis matters

The symptoms that can occur both in the instance of a concussion and in the case of cervical/vestibular injury are headache, visual aberrations, lack of focus, unreliable memory, and balance difficulties.

Leddy said that trying to determine what was dissimilar about the two populations was impossible based purely on symptom data. However, preventing misdiagnosis is essential: treatment methods for the two injuries vary greatly.

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