With the Super Bowl upon us once again and Will Smith's new film "Concussion" receiving critical acclaim, head injury is a hot topic. Results from a new study, examining repeated head injuries, reiterate how vital it is to rest after a concussion.
In short, a concussion is an impact that causes the head and brain to move rapidly back and forth.
This sudden movement forces the brain to bounce or twist within the skull. The unnatural motion causes chemical changes in the brain and damage to brain cells.
Concussions are often referred to as "mild" brain injuries because they are not life-threatening. However, they are more serious than the name suggests; the ramifications can be life-changing if they are not treated appropriately.
After a concussion, doctors routinely advise that several days of rest are in order. This solid advice is not necessarily heeded by people who are eager to get back to the action.
Recent research conducted at Georgetown University Medical Center has shown just how important resting after a head injury truly is.
The first-of-its-kind study, published in the American Journal of Pathology, investigated the impact of repeated but extremely mild head trauma; the type of injury that might be picked up playing sports, in the military or during domestic abuse.
The team, led by Mark P. Burns, assistant professor of neuroscience, found that if mice are given only 1 day to recover from a mild concussion, the damage accumulates gradually, and neural impairment can still be seen a year down the line. But, total recovery is seen in the brain if appropriate rest is given.
"It is good news that the brain can recover from a hit if given enough time to rest and recover. But on the flip side, we find that the brain does not undertake this rebalancing when impacts come too close together."
Regular brain injury
In the experiment, half of the mice received one head injury every day for 30 days; the other half received one head injury every week for 30 weeks. After the initial impact, the mice lost 10-15% of their neuronal connections, but there was no cell death or inflammation. Within 3 days, the connections were restored.
However, with a mild concussion every day, the brain does not get the opportunity to heal. Damage to white matter (vital for coordinating brain-wide communication) became progressively worse over a 2-month period and, even a year after the last insult, the deficits were measurable.
"The findings mirror what has been observed about such damage in humans years after a brain injury, especially among athletes.
Studies have shown that almost all people with single concussions spontaneously recover, but athletes who play contact sports are much more susceptible to lasting brain damage."
He adds that their "findings help fill in the picture of how and when concussions and mild head trauma can lead to sustained brain damage."
The take-home message is clear; concussion can produce long-term consequences if it is not given the respect it deserves. Rest is vital. Lasting neural damage is not worth the risk.
How to spot a concussion
Recognizing a concussion is not always the easiest task, especially in a child. Below are some signs and symptoms to look out for, courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):
- Trouble remembering events just before or after the accident
- Appears stunned
- Acting confused
- Moving clumsily
- Blurred vision
- Bothered by lights or noise
- Difficulty answering questions
- Loss of consciousness
- Vomiting or nausea
- Mood or behavior changes.
If any of these symptoms occur, either immediately after an injury or within the next few hours or even days, individuals should seek the advice of a medical professional.
If the concussed individual has one pupil larger than the other, slurred speech, or if there is persistent vomiting, loss of consciousness or intense agitation and confusion, a trip to the emergency room is in order.
As we learn more about this type of injury, the importance of taking concussion seriously becomes increasingly clear. Medical News Today recently covered a study that found Alzheimer's plaques in the brains of traumatic brain injury victims.