A new study revealed that young athletes who suffered a concussion may experience reduced blood flow in the brain for eight days even after a fast clinical recovery.
Through an advanced form of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan, experts examined high school and college football players who have had a concussion and compared their findings to another set of MRI results that included athletes who were unaffected.
Researchers used arterial spin labeling (ASL) MRI to evaluate blood flow changes in the athletes' brains, and found that significant changes in blood flow occurred after eight days. Dr. Michael McCrea, a co-author of the study, explained that the recovery extends beyond the manifestation of clinical symptoms of concussion.
"It really pertains more to the discussion about that person's readiness to return to activity, where they're certain to sustain additional head impacts," said McCrea.
McCrea and his colleagues also found that in sports medicine practice, the average time to get back to the game is about 15 days after experiencing a concussion. The extra days will provide athletes enough clinical recovery and adequate rest, and will also offer them a better chance in terms of physiological recovery, McCrea said.
The small-scale case-control study only involved 27 participants. All of the participants underwent MRI scan within 24 hours after their injury, and about 30 to 35 percent of them had previously suffered a concussion.
The authors said the findings of the study, which was presented at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America, should be viewed as preliminary until featured in a peer-reviewed medical journal.
"We don't have enough data to tell parents or doctors what to do at this point," said Dr. Yang Wang, the main author of the study. Wang said the findings of the study are interesting, but just the first step.
Dr. Salomao Faintuch, who presided over the briefing of the study, said more work should be done to find out how MRIs can help guide doctors in making decisions on when a player should return to a game. He said that they are still at a very early stage in understanding how the brain recovers from injuries and concussions.
"Recovery time may be much slower, and we can't currently determine that based on clinical symptoms alone. We're looking forward to getting more data on how long it takes the brain to fully recover," added Faintuch.
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