Researchers have discovered that one year after the event of a concussion and receiving medical clearance, signs of concussion-related injuries can still be observed in the brain. The findings were published this fall in the journal Neurology. By evaluating different aspects of brain physiology, including function, connectivity, blood flow and structure, researchers found that some components demonstrated different patterns of long-term recovery, while others showed non-significant concussion effects at the one-year marker after return to play.
Using MRI technology, the concussed brains of 24 athletes were scanned at regular intervals: an average of four days after injury, after medical clearance to return to play (RTP) and one year after RTP. A control group of 122 athletes without concussions were also imaged. The increased presence of white matter mean diffusivity is also concerning because it demonstrates that concussed athletes may still be experiencing microscopic signs of swelling—possibly a sign of inflammation in the brain—suggesting that longer than a year may be required for it to return to normal function.