Dual-Task Gait Performance Following Head Impact Exposure in Male and Female Collegiate Rugby Players.

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Dual-Task Gait Performance Following Head Impact Exposure in Male and Female Collegiate Rugby Players.

Kieffer EE, Brolinson PG, Rowson S.



Background: Gait impairments have been well-studied in concussed athletes. However, the sex-specific effect of cumulative head impacts on gait is not well understood. When a cognitive task is added to a walking task, dual-task gait assessments can help amplify deficits in gait and are representative of tasks in everyday life. Dual-task cost is the difference in performance from walking (single-task) to walking with a cognitive load (dual-task).

Purpose: The objectives of this study were to explore the differences between sexes in 1) dual-task gait metrics, 2) gait metric changes from pre-season to post-concussion and post-season, and 3) the dual-task costs associated with gait metrics.

Study Design: Cross-sectional study

Methods: Over two seasons, 77 female athlete-seasons and 64 male athlete-seasons from collegiate club rugby teams participated in this study. Subjects wore inertial sensors and completed walking trials with and without a cognitive test at pre-season, post-season, and post-concussion (if applicable).

Results: Females athletes showed improvement in cadence (mean = 2.7 step/min increase), double support time (mean = -0.8% gait cycle time decrease), gait speed (mean = 0.1 m/s increase), and stride length (mean = 0.2 m increase) in both task conditions over the course of the season (p < 0.030). Male athletes showed no differences in gait metrics over the course of the season, except for faster gait speeds and longer stride lengths in the dual-task condition (p < 0.034). In all four gait characteristics, at baseline and post-season, females had higher dual-task costs (mean difference = 4.4, p < 0.003) than the males.

Conclusions: This results of this study showed little evidence suggesting a relationship between repetitive head impact exposure and gait deficits. However, there are sex-specific differences that should be considered during the diagnosis and management of sports-related concussion.

Level of Evidence: Level 2b