The most recent study to investigate the longer-term effects of concussion was headed up by Melissa Lancaster, Ph.D., at the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee; the team examined 17 high school and college football players, all of whom had sustained a sports-related concussion. Each participant received a diffusion tensor imaging MRI scan at 24 hours, 6 days, and 6 months, their concussion symptoms were rated, and other parameters – such as cognitive deficits, balance problems, and issues with memory – were also recorded. The results of these assessments were compared with 18 matched athletes who had not sustained a head injury.
The scans showed that the concussed athletes had a reduction in water diffusion throughout the white matter at the 24-hour and 6-day markers, compared with athletes who had not sustained a head injury. These alterations in the brain’s microstructure persisted 6 months later. The athletes who had experienced the most severe symptoms following the concussion were the most likely to display white matter anomalies at the 6-month mark. Despite the persistent changes seen in the scans in the 6-month tests, there were no differences between the injured and non-injured athletes’ self-reported concussion symptoms, balance, or cognition. “In other words, athletes may still experience long-term brain changes even after they feel they have recovered from the injury. These findings have important implications for managing concussions and determining recovery in athletes who have experienced a sports-related concussion.”