Teen hockey players may be cleared to return to the ice too soon after experiencing a concussion, researchers suggest, in a study published recently in Neurology.
MRI scans of teen hockey players who experienced a concussion revealed to the research team that changes to the brain resulting from a concussion persist for at least 3 months—long after other symptoms (such as thinking and memory) resolve and the players are cleared to return to the game.
Current clinical tests used to judge an athlete’s recovery could be improved, says senior researcher Ravi Menon, in a media release from HealthDay.
“Clearly those tests are not very sensitive. Basically, the standard concussion guidelines would indicate it’s OK to go back to play, but the MRI changes show the brain is still damaged and still trying to compensate,” adds Menon, a professor and chair of functional and molecular imaging with the University of Western Ontario’s Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry.
In the study, researchers investigated involved 17 Canadian boys, aged 11 to 14, who sustained a concussion while playing in Bantam hockey leagues.
Each player underwent standard thinking, memory and balance testing following his concussion. The boys also had MRI brain scans—most had one right after the concussion and another 3 months later.
All the players’ scores on thinking and memory tests returned to normal before the 3-month mark, ranging from 10 to 46 days.
But the 3-month MRIs showed they still had signs of widespread damage to their white matter. The white matter serves as the wiring that allows different regions of the brain to communicate, Menon notes, the release continues.
The researchers also found other areas of the brain trying to create new connections, apparently in an attempt to re-establish communication impeded by the white matter damage, Menon explains.
The results call for better clinical tests that reveal whether the damaged white matter has fully re-established communications.
In the meantime, parents should consider keeping their kid out of play a little longer following a concussion, Menon suggests. There’s some concern that brain damage can stack up in a youngster who receives additional knocks to the head while recovering from concussion.
“Probably the more pragmatic approach is to not rush a kid who is 12 years old back into a game the minute their clinical score is normalized,” Menon states. “There’s no multimillion-dollar athletic contract on the line at this point. Give them a chance to rest and recover, and then ease them back in.”