Here's one more reason to get your kids out of contact sports: A new study from the University of Oregon has found that the brain continues to show damage from concussions up to two months later.
In the study, high school athletes – most of them football players – who had suffered a concussion were assessed by researchers within 72 hours and then again one week, two weeks, a month and two months later. Each of the 20 students were matched with a non-concussed control subject of the same age, sex, body size and sport.
"After two months following the concussions, these individuals were still significantly impaired in their executive function, compared to the age-matched, activity-matched and gender-matched control populations," said co-author Louis Osternig, who is a professor emeritus of human physiology and a fellow of the American College of Sports Medicine.
Tests showed that athletes who had suffered concussions were less able to focus and switch tasks amid distractions. And though the differences in the executive function of the brains of the test groups might seem small, it could nevertheless have very large consequences.
"The difference we detected may be a matter of milliseconds between a concussed person and a control subject, but as far as brain time goes that difference for a linebacker returning to competition too soon could mean the difference between another injury or successfully preparing to safely tackle an oncoming running back," said lead author David Howell, a graduate student in the University of Oregon department of human physiology.
The researchers' findings were published in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise and suggest that some athletes may need longer to recover from a concussion than the mere seven to 10 day period that conventional wisdom currently says most people will need.
Athletes in many sports, not just contact ones, will suffer concussions. Whatever sport they play, anyone who is concussed needs to be incredibly cautious about their recovery and their return to play, especially considering the risks of re-injury.
"If a person goes back to the playing field without a full recovery, that person is put into great danger of being re-injured," said Li-Shan Chou, professor of human physiology and director of the University of Oregon Motion Analysis Laboratory. "In any given season, if you suffer a concussion, the chances of your suffering a second one is three to six times higher and suffering a third is eight times higher. There are accumulations int his kind of injury. It doesn't go away easily."