Concussion affects many people every year and the prevalence of head injuries is especially high when it comes to contact sports like rugby and football. Concussion is now considered as a brain injury caused by blows to the neck, head or face. A concussion most commonly results in the onset of transient impairment of brain function and these transient signs normally resolve spontaneously, but more and more research is currently showing that concussion injuries may have a more persistent effect on neurological functioning.
Neurological results of concussion injuries
Many people who had a concussion injury experience some signs of physical and mental problems later in life. This could be a result of the fact that even after they recover from the concussion injury, they may have reduced blood flow to certain parts of the brain. The reason for the reduced blood flow is still unclear. These subtle signs of injury may even persist for up to 30 years (or more). Such concussion injuries are often overlooked by sports therapists and other medical professionals. Studies have shown that people in clinical recovery may still have neurophysiological abnormalities.
Some minor injuries to the head may have no resultant long-term effect, however, other head injuries may cause problems over longer time periods and often people are discharged from hospital without being educated about the possible long term effects of concussion injuries.
A new objective measurement
For many years, medical professionals had to rely on the personal experience of concussed athletes. A new, more objective measurement of the injury could open new doors to the diagnostic process of head injuries. An advanced, non-invasive method of MRI scanning is used to detect the blood flow in parts of the brain. This method also doesn’t expose the patient to radiation, instead they measure blood flow changes by using arterial blood water as the contrast tracer which is associated with brain function. The reasons for reduced levels of cerebral blood flow in concussed athletes is still not know, the findings of such a scan could help to make important decisions about when the athlete can return to the game after a head injury.
Luckily research is being done increasingly on the long term consequences and effects of concussion. If you or someone you know show possible persistent signs of neurological dysfunction following a concussion injury (no matter how long ago), seek prompt attention to improve you quality of life.
- De Beaumont L, Theoret H, Mongeon D, Messier J, Leclerc S, Tremblay S, Ellemberg D, Lassonde M. Brain function decline in healthy retired athletes who sustained their last sports concussion in early adulthood. Brain. March 2009; vol. 132(3): 695-708
- Dettwiler A, Murugavel M, Putukian M, Cubon V, Furtado J, Osherson D. Persistent differences in patterns of brain activation after sports-related concussion: a longitudinal functional magnetic resonance imaging study. Journal of neurotrauma. January 2014; vol. 31(2): 180-8.
- North West Parkinson’s Foundation. Concussion effect ‘spans decades’. January 2009. [Available from: https://nwpf.org/stay-informed/news/2009/01/concussion-effect-spans-decades/]
- Reduced blood flow seen in brain after clinical recovery of acute concussion. November 2015. [Available from: http://medicalxpress.com/news/2015-11-blood-brain-clinical-recovery-acute.html]