Nowadays, it’s not just a simple knock on the head.

A new study led by U. Oregon graduate student David Howell and his advisors Dr. Li-Shan Chou and Dr. Louis “Lou” Osternig indicates that certain individuals may take longer to recover from concussions than previously thought.

The study differentiated symptoms (e.g. headache, memory loss) from their ability to react and multitask, finding that while subjects usually recovered from symptoms between two weeks to a month, the latter left them milliseconds slower, even at the two-month mark.

“Even though somebody feels better and they may say, ‘Okay, I’m ready to play, I feel 100 percent,’ there may be some effects to their response time based on filtering out extraneous information,” Howell said.

Even so, what good is a millisecond? According to Osternig and Chou, the difference a millisecond can make extends beyond protecting yourself on the playing field and into situations like whether you’re able to focus in class, remember information or even hit the brakes in time while driving.

Conducted in the Motion Analysis Laboratory – located in the depths of Gerlinger Annex – the study followed around 20 high school athletes from various sports like soccer and football over the course of two months. Volunteers were required to contact the lab within three days of experiencing a concussion and were not allowed to participate if they had received another concussion within the previous year.

According to Howell, a control group of students who had never been concussed was also assembled. This group consisted of students who matched the age, height, sport and sometimes even the position played by their concussed counterparts.

Osternig and Chou – who have been researching both sports and non-sports related concussions since the early 2000s – have seen a recent increase in volunteers and attribute it to the increased media attention other studies have been receiving. All three are happy with the increased coverage but are concerned with how their research will translate from the observational to the practical.

“From the outside or even if you did a very detailed scan, there may be no change in the structure of the brain,” Chou said. “But … if you look at our brain, the brain tissue is more like the water being contained in this bottle.”

Chou shoves the bottle across the table to simulate a concussion. The water sloshes violently.

“So, the outside of the bottle is still intact, but the water inside the bottle has been moved around big time,” Chou said. “Those kinds of sheer force, I mean, relative movement between the skull and brain tissue create a lot of stress and strain to the brain tissues and may affect their networking with each other, and that’s why it’s so difficult for us to diagnose, as well as know what really goes wrong.”

Dr. Greg Skaggs, Director of Athletic Medicine, shares similar sentiments.

“It would make my job really easy if there was a scan, but it’s not,” Skaggs said.

As of now, the best treatment for a concussion is complete rest (no class, no driving, no practice). Skaggs says that all of the varsity athletes he cares for are educated about concussions before playing and are highly discouraged from hiding injuries.

“Let’s say you’re a 20-year-old and you’ve worked hard for a bowl game – you’re not going to want to be left out and miss that,” said Skaggs. “It’s our job to protect them from themselves.”

Ultimately, the group’s goal is to provide people with the ability to make educated decisions about high contact sports rather than casting them in a negative light.

“I think we’ll just become more educated about how exactly we engage in these types of sports,” Chou said. “I don’t think it’s going to affect individuals’ willingness to participate in this types of sports, but better prepare them to participate.”

Hockey player Matthew Hanlon echoes this. He’s never been officially diagnosed with a concussion but has seen the effects they’ve had on his teammates.

“I guess you know that that’s a part of the sport, and the positives – the joy of the sport, outweigh the negatives,” Hanlon said.


–By Nicholas Sommariva

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