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When Do Football Players Recover From Concussions?

New research showed that eight days after a concussion, the concussed athletes (football players) looked and felt like they had recovered (clinical recovery), but MRIs showed that there were still neurophysiological abnormalities (significant blood flow decrease) in their brains. They did not look at if and when the blood flow returned to normal, but that research also needs to be done.

It is very disturbing to look at both this research and also the finding that the off-season is not enough for high school football players to recover from the repeated hits (not concussions, but sub-concussive hits) that they receive during the football season (Nov. 24, 2015 post). Do student football players really know and understand the dangers to their brains from the repeated hits and also concussions that occur in football? From Medical Xpress:

Reduced blood flow seen in brain after clinical recovery of acute concussion

Some athletes who experience sports-related concussions have reduced blood flow in parts of their brains even after clinical recovery, according to a study presented today at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA). The results suggest a role for MRI in determining when to allow concussed athletes to return to competition.

Decisions to clear concussed athletes to return to action are typically based on symptoms and cognitive and neurological test results. However, there is increasing evidence that brain abnormalities persist beyond the point of clinical recovery after injury. To find out more, researchers from the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee studied concussed football players with arterial spin labeling, an advanced MRI method that detects blood flow in the brain.

Dr. Wang and colleagues studied 18 concussed players and 19 non-concussed players. They obtained MRI of the concussed players within 24 hours of the injury and a follow-up MRI eight days after the injury and compared results with those of the non-concussed players. Clinical assessments were obtained for both groups at each time point, as well as at the baseline before the football season.

The concussed players demonstrated significant impairment on clinical assessment at 24 hours post-injury, but returned to baseline levels at eight days. In contrast to clinical manifestation, the concussed players demonstrated a significant blood flow decrease at eight days relative to 24 hours post-injury, while the non-concussed players had no change in cerebral blood flow between the two time points.

"In eight days, the concussed athletes showed clinical recovery," Dr. Wang said. "However, MRI showed that even those in clinical recovery still had neurophysiological abnormalities. Neurons under such a state of physiologic stress function abnormally and may become more susceptible to second injury." "For years, we've relied on what athletes are telling us," Dr. McCrea said. "We need something more objective, and this technology may provide a greater measurement of recovery."

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