Architecture of Physical, Cognitive, and Emotional Symptoms at Preseason Baseline in Adolescent Student Athletes With a History of Mental Health Problems

Grant L. Iverson, Payton J. Jones, Justin E. Karr, Bruce Maxwell, Ross Zafonte, Paul D. Berkner, Richard J. McNally

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Objective: Pre-injury mental health problems are associated with greater symptom reporting following sport-related concussion. We applied a statistical and psychometric approach known as network analysis to examine the interrelationships among symptoms at baseline in adolescent student athletes with a history of mental health problems. Design: Cross-sectional study. Setting: High schools in Maine, USA. Participants: A cohort of 44,527 adolescent student athletes completed baseline preseason testing with ImPACT® between 2009 and 2015, and those with a history of mental health problems reporting at least one symptom were included (N = 2,412; 14–18 years-old, 60.1% girls). Independent Variables: Self-reported history of treatment for a psychiatric condition. Main Outcome Measures: Physical, cognitive, and emotional symptoms from the Post-Concussion Symptom Scale. Results: Student athletes reported high frequencies of emotional symptoms (nervousness: boys = 46.6%, girls = 58.3%; irritability: boys = 37.9%, girls = 46.9%; sadness: boys = 38.7%, girls = 53.2%), sleep/arousal-related symptoms (trouble falling asleep: boys = 50.4%, girls = 55.1%; sleeping less than usual: boys = 43.8%, girls = 45.2%; and fatigue: boys = 40.3%, girls = 45.2%), headaches (boys = 27.5%, girls = 41.8%), and inattention (boys = 47.8%, girls = 46.9%) before the start of the season. Although uncommonly endorsed, dizziness was the most central symptom (i.e., the symptom with the highest aggregate connectedness with different symptoms in the network), followed by feeling more emotional and feeling slowed down. Dizziness was related to physical and somatic symptoms (e.g., balance, headache, nausea, numbness/tingling) whereas increased emotionality was related to sadness, nervousness, and irritability. Feeling slowed down was connected to cognitive (e.g., fogginess, forgetfulness), and sensory symptoms (e.g., numbness/tingling, light sensitivity). There were no gender differences in the symptom network structure. Conclusions: We examined the interconnections between symptoms reported by student athletes with mental health problems at preseason baseline, identifying how physical, cognitive, and emotional symptoms interact and potentially reinforce each other in the absence of injury. These findings are a step toward informing more precise interventions for this subgroup of athletes if they are slow to recover following concussion.

Original languageEnglish
Article number175
JournalFrontiers in Neurology
StatePublished - Mar 20 2020

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© Copyright © 2020 Iverson, Jones, Karr, Maxwell, Zafonte, Berkner and McNally.


  • adolescent
  • child
  • concussion
  • mental health
  • sports

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Clinical Neurology


Dive into the research topics of 'Architecture of Physical, Cognitive, and Emotional Symptoms at Preseason Baseline in Adolescent Student Athletes With a History of Mental Health Problems'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this