Other Subject Area

Autonomic Physiology and Sports Medicine


International Journal of Exercise Science 14(3): 779-790, 2021. Contact-sports can elicit concussions, which impacts autonomic function, as well as elicit repetitive head trauma, where autonomic function has not yet been assessed. The purpose of this study was to determine if differences in autonomic function exist among three groups (CTRL: healthy non-contact-sport participant, RHT: repetitive head trauma contact-sport participant, CONC: previous concussion). Forty participants (16 men and 24 women), aged 18-37 (22 ± 3), participated in the study. Participants were grouped based on their sport and concussion history (CTRL, RHT, and CONC). Body composition was measured via air displacement plethysmography. Prior to testing, participants were outfitted with equipment to evaluate heart rate, blood pressure, and cerebral-artery blood flow velocity (CBFv). The participant performed against three stimuli: deep breathing, Valsalva maneuver, and a 70° head-up tilt test. Following autonomic function testing, a YMCA submaximal cycle test was performed. All group comparisons were analyzed using a one-way ANOVA and all data are presented as means ± standard deviation. The results of this study indicated that the groups did not differ in respiratory sinus arrhythmia (CTRL: 22 ± 6 bpm, RHT: 21 ± 8 bpm, CONC: 19 ± 7 bpm, p = 0.471), Valsalva ratio (CTRL: 2.19 ± 0.39, RHT: 2.09 ± 0.37, CONC: 2.00 ± 0.47, p = 0.519), CBFv (CTRL: 47.74 ± 25.28 cm/s, RHT: 40.99 ± 10.93 cm/s, CONC: 43.97 ± 17.55 cm/s, p = 0.657), or tilt time (CTRL: 806.09 ± 368.37 sec, RHT: 943.07 ± 339.54 sec, CONC: 978.40 ± 387.98 sec, p = 0.479). However, CONC (113.24 ± 11.64 mmHg) had a significantly higher mean systolic blood pressure during the tilt test than CTRL (102.66 ± 7.79 mmHg, p = 0.026), while RHT (107.9 ± 9.0 mmHg) was not significantly different than CTRL (p = 0.39) or CONC (p = 0.319). The results of this study are the first step in determining if long-lasting deficits to the autonomic nervous system occur following a diagnosis of concussion. However, concussions do not seem to have lasting effects on autonomic function. Overwhelmingly, dysautonomia is not present during chronic recovery from concussions or in individuals with RHT from contact-sports. In the future, sex should be considered as a variable.