Severe concussion may cause white matter brain changes for longer than suspected according to a new study. Even after any symptoms of the concussion have subsided, and as long as 6 months after the event, these individuals can still have changes in the white matter of the brain. This matter in the brain carries nerve impulses between different neurons and forms the connective tissue between different gray matter brain areas, similar to the wiring in a home that is hidden behind the walls of the residence. 17 football players from high school and college were recruited who had experienced at least one sports related concussion, and each underwent MRI scans as well as a range of testing to determine symptoms, balance, problems with memory or thinking, and cognitive impairment.
The participants in the study on white matter brain changes and severe concussion were all evaluated at specific time intervals after the concussion occurred. The monitoring started at 24 hours, then again at 8 days and one more time after 6 months had passed. The control group consisted of 18 athletes who had never had a concussion but who were similar to the study participants in every other respect. Those who had the most severe concussion symptoms were also more likely to show white matter changes even after 6 months had past. Study author and Medical College of Wisconsin researcher Melissa Lancaster, Ph.D., explained the findings. “In other words, athletes may still experience long-term brain changes even after they feel they have recovered from the injury. These findings have important implications for managing concussions and determining recovery in athletes who have experienced a sports-related concussion. Additional research is needed to determine how these changes relate to long-term outcomes.”