Concussions can alter the structure of the brain over the long-term, even after clinical symptoms associated with head trauma have disappeared, a new study conducted by researchers at the Medical College of Wisconsin has found.
While the effects a concussion makes on the brain’s microstructure are known and documented, the Wisconsin study, presented earlier this month in the American Academy of Neurology’s Sports Concussion Conference, focused on the duration of those effects.
The study analyzed the brains of 35 high school and college athletes using advanced neuroimaging technologies. Seventeen of the study subjects were examined after suffering a concussion. The other 18 subjects did not suffer a concussion and their healthy brains were used as a benchmark for comparison.
Researchers imaged the brains of the athletes in three intervals, starting with 24 hours after the initial concussion, again after eight days, and finally at six months.
The researchers found microstructural changes in the white matter of the brain and restrained movement of water molecules along brain fibers six month after the initial injury, even long after the clinical symptoms and side effects of concussion had cleared.
The study also showed that damage in the brain’s white matter to be proportionate to the severity of clinical symptoms. The worse the athlete suffered the effects of a concussion, the greater the degree of damage to the brain
“In other words, athletes may still experience long-term brain changes even after they feel they have recovered from the injury. These findings have important implications for managing concussions and determining recovery in athletes who have experienced a sports-related concussion,” study researcher Melissa Lancaster, PhD, explained.
The study did not uncover a link between structural changes in the brain and behavioral changes. Dr. Lancaster said that more research is needed to explore those connections.
The researchers said the study provides insights that could influence how athletic concussions are treated. For instance, medical professionals and coaches could possibly bar football players and other athletes from returning to play for a more extensive period, until the brains microstructural damage has improved rather than when the clinical symptoms have improved.
Source: Sports Techie