Concussions are common among athletes, but unfortunately they are also serious risks to cognitive health. Performance on neurocognitive tests is impaired immediately following a concussion, and while scores usually return to pre-concussion levels, it can take time, and there are still mysteries surrounding what exactly happens to the brain and how long the effects truly last.
A new study out of the Robarts Research Institute here in London, Ontario used advanced MRI technology to better see what happens to the brains of concussed hockey players. It turns out that even after clinical testing clears a player to return to the ice, there are still changes happening in the brain.
Specifically, fibre tracks in the brain were damaged both immediately after a concussion and three months later. The extent of this damage was related with the severity of clinical deficits. On the positive side, an increase in neural connectivity in some areas suggests that the brain, wonderful organ that it is, rewires itself to compensate for injuries.
Increases in connectivity 3 months post-concussion. Source: Manning et al., 2017
The research will be crucial for developing better decision-making criteria about when it is safe to return to physical activities following a concussion. This adds to increasing attention to the dangers of head injuries, which has resulted in improvements such as requiring neurocognitive testing before any injuries happen, in order to have a better baseline to compare to.