The more we learn about concussion the more we can differentiate between what different symptoms mean and how different people react to brain injury. A new study on athletes with vestibular symptoms following a concussion are likely to have slower reaction times, which increases their risk for repeated injury than those without these types of symptoms.
The research, presented at the American College of Sports Medicine 60th Annual Meeting, studied 48 athletes, aged 9 to 23, who had all been diagnosed with a protracted concussion. They found that patients with vestibular dizziness has significantly lower scores in gauging reaction time compared to those who did not suffer dizziness.
“The vestibular system plays a role in movement and timing as it helps to regulate our body’s movement through space and time and our awareness of that movement,” lead investigator Anthony Kontos, PhD, from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s Sports Medicine Concussion Program in Pennsylvania, told Medscape.
“Therefore, if this system is compromised in some way following concussion, it makes sense that a reaction time would be slowed. This is an important point, as athletes with this impaired reaction time may be at greater risk for subsequent injury until they are no longer impaired.”
The findings support Dr. Kontos’ previous research suggesting that dizziness was associated with a significant increase in risk for protracted outcome following a brain injury, as well as their suggestion that vestibular impairment was related to cognitive impairment.
These impairments raise the risk of repeated injury because the patients lack their normal balance or coordination, which can easily lead to accidents such as falls or collisions. Until their symptoms are resolved, they are at increased danger.
The vestibular impairments, after being diagnosed, are handled through various target therapies which aim to directly improve the deficit.
“A patient who is identified as having a convergence insufficiency, for instance, may be prescribed in-office and home-based vision therapy designed to improve this visual deficit,” Dr. Kontos explained.
Kontos believes if screening for vestibular impairment became common doctors could provide much more appropriate treatment as well as speed up their recovery.
“Clinicians need to assess and identify vestibular impairment following concussion using brief screening tools to allow them to move patients into targeted treatment tracks that will provide more individualized therapies for their specific impairments,” said Kontos.