When a concussion occurs, the main goal for treatment is to let the brain rest. This is because the brain matter that is affected by the concussion is particularly vulnerable to further injury afterward.
Now, a new study adds evidence that it's not just an athlete's brain at risk following a concussion, but also his or her body. More specifically, ongoing neurological effects may hinder reflexes and movement, leading to an increased risk for injury.
Researchers tested this by examining 2 years of medical records for 44 college athletes who had experienced a concussion—the year before the concussion occurred and the year after. They compared this with 2 years of records for similar athletes who had experienced no concussion.1
Analysis revealed that the concussed students were almost 2 times as likely to experience an acute injury in their lower extremities in the year after the concussion compared with the year before. They were also 1.65 times more likely to have an injury post-concussion than the control group students over the same time period.
Acute lower limb injuries that may occur if someone's reflexes or movements are compromised can include:
- Strain or tear to the groin, hamstrings, quadriceps, or calf muscles
- ACL injury or other tendon injury in the knee
- Meniscus tear
- Sprained ankle
Currently, concussion recovery protocol is to allow athletes to return to play only after all concussion symptoms have disappeared. How long this takes varies from person to person—it can be a matter of days, weeks, or months.
This study is concerning because the concussed student's higher injury rate—which may indicate they are still troubled by problems with posture, reaction time, and muscle coordination—lasted up to a year after the concussion. It raises questions of whether athletes are being returned to play too soon, or whether additional tests should be administered before athletes are returned to play.
This study had some limitations: The study group was small, and the medical records may not have been completely reliable. More research is needed to determine if concussions are causing lingering mental problems that could be contributing to athlete injuries. And, if they are, how those injuries can be prevented.
- Lynall RC1, Mauntel TC, Padua DA, Mihalik JP Acute Lower Extremity Injury Rates Increase following Concussion in College Athletes. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2015 Jun 8. [Epub ahead of print]