MONTREAL -- Researchers at the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC) in Montreal say they have developed a new balance test that could make it easier and faster to diagnose concussions sustained by hockey players.

Hockey players currently need to remove all their equipment before conducting a standard balance assessment, and then need to put it all back on if they are cleared. MUHC researchers say this contributes to players choosing to hide symptoms and keep playing, at great risk to their brain health. "Especially when you're in the game, it's hard to let go of the game and just give up on the game and sometimes you feel like oh theres four minutes left I can tough it out and them I'll see at the end," said McGill Martlets forward Kellyane Lecours. 

The researchers say the new test, called the In-Skates Balance Error Scoring System (SBESS) can be performed with a player's equipment on (except for their helmet and gloves). Adding to the ease of testing, the SBESS can be done on the hard black rubber that covers the halls and locker rooms of most hockey arenas, the researchers said.

“Currently, the balance assessment is one of the most important physical exams after a possible concussion, and the most likely to pick up abnormalities, but it has to be done barefoot in shorts and a T-shirt," said Dr. J. Scott Delaney, of the MUHC's department of emergency medicine, who led the research team that developed the SBESS.  "It’s not adapted to the reality of hockey players."

Researchers tested 80 female and male hockey players at McGill University and Concordia University for a study that was recently published in the Clinical Journal of Sport and Medicine.

Delaney, who is also the doctor for the Montreal Impact, Montreal Alouettes, McGill University football team and McGill men’s and women’s soccer teams (as well as Cirque du Soleil) calls the new research "an important step" towards managing brain injuries in hockey players, and more research is underway to establish the SBESS as a valid diagnostic tool.

"We hope that our work leads to the adoption, over the next few years, of a new test to be added to the traditional physical exam that will help improve the diagnosis of concussions in hockey," Delaney said.