OBJECTIVE: The National Football League (NFL) neuropsychological testing program is reviewed, and neuropsychological test data are presented on various samples of NFL athletes who sustained concussion (mild traumatic brain injury, MTBI).
METHODS: This study evaluated post-MTBI neuropsychological testing of NFL players from 1996 to 2001. All athletes completed a standardized battery of neuropsychological tests and underwent postinjury neuropsychological testing within a few days after concussion. Test scores were compared with baselines using analysis of variance for athletes having on-field memory dysfunction, three or more concussions, or 7+ days out from practice and play.
RESULTS: The MTBI group did not display significant neuropsychological dysfunction relative to baseline scores within a few days of injury. However, a subsample of the injured athletes who displayed on-field memory dysfunction performed significantly more poorly on two of the memory tests. The neuropsychological test results of a group of athletes with a history of three or more MTBIs did not differ significantly compared with a group who had fewer than three concussions or compared with league-wide normative data. The neuropsychological performance of athletes who were out from full participation 7+ days was not significantly different from the group who returned to play within 7 days or the norms.
CONCLUSION: Neuropsychological testing is used within the overall medical evaluation and care of NFL athletes. Players who experience MTBI generally demonstrate rapid recovery of neuropsychological performance, although poorer neuropsychological test results were related to on-field memory dysfunction. NFL players did not demonstrate evidence of neurocognitive decline after multiple (three or more) MTBIs or in those players out 7+ days. The data show that MTBI in this population is characterized by a rapid return of neuropsychological function in the days after injury.