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Baseline Concussion Testing in Figure Skating

June 7, 2012

There’s a great deal of interest at this time in concussive injuries to young athletes.  Particularly with recent lawsuits by former professional football players, concussion type injuries and their long term effects are getting a lot of attention.

As noted in Wikipedia, concussions are mild brain injuries caused by a blow to the head or by acceleration forces without direct head impact.  A concussion typically entails a loss of brain function with physiological changes. (Research has yet not been conclusive on whether structural damage also occurs.)

Concussions have an increased probability in athletes participating in sports with high acceleration impacts such as player collisions or hard falls.  Figure skaters certainly fall within this category of athletes.  Figure skaters potentially fall thousands of times each year on a very hard surface (ice) while practicing a variety of skills.  Most falls occur on practice sessions while working on multiple rotation jumps.

There are two primary potential dangers regarding concussions in figure skaters. One is the cumulative effects of multiple concussions over a long period of time.  This is poorly understood at this time, not only in figure skating, but in the greater medical community.  Available evidence suggests this is not a major problem in figure skating compared to other sports.

The most concerning danger regarding concussions in figure skaters is the potential for severe injury or even death in the event of a second injury.  A skater may suffer from what is called “second-impact syndrome” if the skater receives a concussive impact just days or weeks after an initial concussion, before the symptoms have gone away.  This condition is particularly dangerous and should be guarded against by all figure skating coaches and skating parents.

Figure skaters are some of the most driven athletes in the world, and it’s common for skaters to continuously skate with nagging, ongoing, and sometimes relatively serious injuries.  Figure skaters typically resume training as soon as the pain of an injury becomes bearable, rather than when the injury truly heals.

This is also true for skaters with concussive injuries.  Most skaters are more than willing to return to the ice and skate, even though they may be continuing to experience concussion symptoms such as mild or moderate headaches.  Simply put, this behavior is dangerous to the athlete.

One of the simplest ways to minimize the risk associated with re-injury while experiencing concussion symptoms is for the skater to take a cognitive baseline test.  These simple tests are available online for minimal cost.

Axon Sports
offers a baseline test for just $7.50.  (There’s a great explanation on that page as well.)  Another popular testing program is ImPACT.

Baseline testing should be done once a year when the skater is healthy.  The skater’s test results are recorded and available for comparison later in the skating season if required.  When a skater receives an impact that coaches or parents may suspect has caused a concussion, the skater can then take the test again to determine if there was some loss of brain function by comparing with the baseline score.  When a concussion is evident in the test results, further testing can be done over a period of days or weeks until the skater’s brain returns to normal functioning.

It goes without saying that skaters with reduced brain function should not skate, for obvious skill reasons and also for the important health reasons discussed above concerning re-injury.  Additionally, research suggests that the effects of a concussive injury actually last longer than the outward symptoms, meaning skaters will almost certainly return to the ice too soon without some kind of formal testing.

The effectiveness of baseline testing of cognitive brain function is still being studied, but it does represent one of the latest tools available to those concerned about concussions in figure skating.  At this time there are very few other options available for helping determine when it’s appropriate to get back on the ice.

There are other tests, and some may be even more effective at determining loss of brain function after a concussion.  Many of these use brainwave detection and analysis but the cost of these tests is generally prohibitive.

Below are some helpful resources on

Baseline Concussion Testing For Figure Skaters

Here is a dull but informative video backed by the authority of the Mayo Clinic describing Baseline Concussion Testing.  Although this video is not directly targeting figure skaters, the information is appropriate for skaters and their coaches.


The next video discusses the very real issue of athletes purposely doing poorly on initial baseline concussion testing so that their post-concussion test scores do not show a concussion.  Skaters that do this in order to return to the ice sooner after a concussion are taking dangerous risks.  To be effective, concussion testing needs to be taken seriously the figure skating coaches, skating parents, and most importantly, figure skaters themselves.


All figure skating participants should take concussion detection and treatment very seriously.  The current and future health of our skaters depends on it.