The Post-Concussion Symptom Scale: Normative Data for Adolescent Student-Athletes Stratified by Gender and Preexisting Conditions

Justin E. Karr, Brandon G. Zuccato, Eric O. Ingram, Tara L. McAuley, Bradley Merker, Christopher A. Abeare

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Background: The Post-Concussion Symptom Scale (PCSS) is a self-report questionnaire measuring symptoms that commonly occur after a concussion; however, these symptoms are nonspecific and can be related to co-occurring orthopaedic injuries (eg, cervical strain) or patient characteristics and preexisting conditions, even in the absence of a recent injury. As such, clinicians may have difficulty determining whether symptom elevations are attributable to a recent concussion as opposed to a confounding injury or a preexisting condition, which may be especially difficult when preinjury baseline symptom data are unavailable. Purpose: This study aimed to further validate the 4-factor model of the PCSS (ie, cognitive, sleep-arousal, physical, and affective symptoms) with adolescent student-athletes and provide normative reference data for each factor and the total score, stratified by gender and preexisting health conditions. Study Design: Cross-sectional study; Level of evidence, 3. Methods: Participants were 9358 adolescent student-athletes who completed the PCSS during a preseason baseline evaluation (mean age, 14.9 years; SD, 1.3 years [range, 13-18 years]; 49.3% boys). The 4-factor model of the PCSS was tested for the full sample and separately for boys and girls using confirmatory factor analysis. Symptom severity percentiles were created for the PCSS total score and each factor, stratified by gender and preexisting conditions (ie, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, mental health history, headache/migraine history, learning disability/dyslexia, academic problems, and concussion history). Results: The 4-factor model of the PCSS replicated in the full sample (comparative fit index [CFI] = 0.959) and in both gender groups (boys: CFI = 0.961; girls: CFI = 0.960). The total PCSS score at the 84th percentile varied by preexisting conditions as follows: healthy participants = 8, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder = 18, mental health history = 26, headache/migraine history = 18, learning disability = 19, and academic problems = 17. On all PCSS subscales, participants with a mental health history had the highest scores, and high scores were associated with having >1 preexisting condition. Girls had higher scores than boys for each stratification. Conclusion: The 4-factor model of the PCSS replicates for adolescent student-athletes. Gender, number of preexisting conditions, and mental health history are important factors to account for when interpreting PCSS symptom severity. The normative data provided herein could assist clinicians in determining whether an adolescent student-athlete is presenting with persistent postconcussion symptoms or a typical symptom experience based on their gender and personal health history.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)225-236
Number of pages12
JournalAmerican Journal of Sports Medicine
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 The Author(s).


  • athletic training
  • clinical assessment/grading scales
  • general sports trauma
  • head injuries/concussion
  • psychological aspects of sport

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine
  • Physical Therapy, Sports Therapy and Rehabilitation


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