One of the most frustrating parts of recovering from a brain injury is feeling normal but still being functionally impaired. Just because your symptoms are gone doesn’t mean your brain has fully healed.
This hasn’t always been the way we understood things however. In fact, until very recently concussions were almost entirely judged symptomatically, but new research into the brain injury has shown that symptoms don’t necessarily reflect how healed a patient is.
A new study from Columbia University in New York confirms this, as they’ve shown that college football players with concussions showed mild cognitive impairment on the Concussion Resolution Index, even after symptoms subsided.
The study examined a group of 70 Ivy League college football players who had suffered concussions. From that group, 39.4% continued to show subtle impairment during computerized evaluations after their standard symptoms had been resolved.
“The key thing here is that despite reports of [resolution] of symptoms by the athletes, we still saw that nearly 40% of the concussed athletes showed significant deficits in their neuropsychiatric testing,” Tanzid Shams, leader of the study from Columbia University, told MedPage Today at the American Neurological Association’s annual meeting.
“And this is important because an athlete can report resolution of symptoms, but they still may have lingering cognitive deficits, and the key thing we have to watch out for is that someone doesn’t get a second or a third concussion during the time that they are vulnerable.”
This could have a significant impact in the future on concussion guidelines. Standard practice for a player diagnosed with a concussion is to be pulled from action for at least a week, until symptoms have subsided and the player has been cleared by a doctor. In general most symptoms are resolved within a week, but under these guidelines players who are still concussed are prevented from putting themselves back at risk.
If the brain is still vulnerable following the resolution of symptoms, it is likely players may need to be removed from play for longer periods, with further testing done to confirm if they are ready to return to play. In leagues like the NFL where a shocking number of players are out weekly from brain injuries, a change like that could shake up the game even more.