British Columbia

New concussion study shows brain damage lasts longer than thought

A UBC study using MRI scans shows damage to nerves in the brain after a concussion lasts for somewhere between two weeks and two months on average. The researcher says his study might suggest athletes take more time off after a concussion.

Despite observed damage to their brains, the players did well on standard concussion tests

An MRI image of a human brain. UBC researcher Alex Rauscher used MRI scans to show damage to nerve cells in the brain can persist for weeks or even months despite players doing well on post-concussion tests. (Liz Henry/Flickr)

New research from the University of British Columbia has shown concussion-caused brain damage that had previously been invisible.

These new images suggest myelin, a crucial part of the nervous systems, is damaged in concussed athletes, and that damage can last longer than the clinical symptoms suggest.

Myelin acts as a sort of "insulator" around nerve fibres in the brain, says researcher Alex Rauscher, and when it is damaged, it slows down transmission of nerve signals and leads to impaired brain functioning.

Rauscher's study followed players from a male hockey team and a female team, and performed MRI scans on the 11 players who suffered concussions.

Rauscher says his work is only a single study, but could point to a recommendation for athletes to take more time off after a concussion. (CBC)

"When the concussed people came in, we scanned them at three days, two weeks and two months so we could follow the trajectory of change in the brain using a myelin-specific scan," Rauscher told On The Coast host Stephen Quinn.

"By averaging over those 11 people who had a concussion, we were able to see that at two weeks there was still change to the myelin sheath … it had then recovered two months after the concussion."

Rauscher also performed standard concussion tests on the players, and despite the observed damage to the myelin, the players performed well on those tests and showed no extraordinary symptoms.

"There is the risk of overlapping injuries, and that's why people should be avoiding risky activities after a concussion," Rauscher said.

Rauscher says his work is only a single study, but could point to a recommendation for athletes to take more time off after a concussion.

To hear the full story, click the audio labelled: Concussion damage in brain lasts for weeks on average: UBC study


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