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Concussions may leave structural brain changes after symptoms disappear
The US is currently leading the way in terms of research on concussion. The prevalence of American Football all over the country means there are huge numbers of males who could potentially take part in these studies. Although the NFL was reluctant to accept a link between concussions and long term brain damage the culture is at a precipice of changing and new research is driving this change forward.
Scientists of the Medical College of Wisconsin presented an abstract on 8th July 2016 to the American Academy of Neurology’s Sports Concussion Conference of a study which shows that athletes may still experience long-term brain changes even after they feel they have recovered from their injury. Melissa Lancaster, author of the study, said in a statement that ‘these findings have important implication for managing concussion and determining recovery in athletes who have experienced a sports-related concussion’.
The study tracked 17 high school and college football players with a mean age of 17 years who had suffered a blow to the head whilst playing. They were tested for various clinical symptoms, including loss of balance, memory and cognition. They also scanned their brains using advanced neuroimaging techniques, 24 hours, 8 days and 6 months after the injury.
The neuroimaging can track the health of nerves in the white matter of the brain by detecting the movement of water in the white matter. If the matter is healthy then the water diffuses easily along the fiber, damage reduces this flow.
They found that damage was found at 24 hours, 8 days and still at 6 months even though all the players reported recovery from any clinical symptoms at the 6 months stage.
More research is needed, they need to use more players and track them for much longer periods of time. James Couch, Professor of Neurology at University of Oklahoma said the findings were very important but only long term studies can give us solid data. He says ‘Say you’ve got some guy who plays high school football and takes a lot of hits to his head. What happens to him, not when he’s 18 but when he’s 48? Is this a guy that might have become the CEO of a company or is he stuck working in the mail room, we need to follow that.’
Perhaps the cliché of the most popular guy at school playing quarter back but not amounting to much in later adult life is not so much a cliché but a direct result of playing the sport in the first place?
These findings are incredibly important when considering the prevalence of concussion in all contact sports not just American Football.
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