Concussions Change White Matter in Brain

concussions in football

Contact sports like football can cause mild traumatic brain injury, otherwise known as concussions. A new study shows that this kind of injury can change the brain’s white matter.

In a new study, brain’s white matter is left changed six months after a concussion, according to Medical News Today. Concussions are a fairly common occurrence in the country, particularly in contact sports like football. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate between 1.6 and 3.8 million concussions occur each year, with 10 percent of athletes suffering a concussion in any given sports season.

As concussions are traumatic brain injuries, they can have lasting effects on the brain. This recent study was presented at the Sports Concussion Conference in Chicago, IL July 8th through 10th. Melissa Lancaster, Ph. D. of the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee led the team of researchers.

Some of the temporary effects of a concussion include cognitive deficits, headaches, and balance problems. This study is saying that there are some more longer term effects of a “mild” injury. The study examined 17 high school and college football players, who had sports-related concussions.

Each of these 17 people received an MRI 24 hours, six days, and six months after the injury. Their concussion symptoms were rated and other problems with cognition, balance, and memory were also rated. Their results were compared with 18 other athletes who had not sustained a head injury.

The participants received brain scans including diffusion tensor imaging and diffusion kurtosis tensor imaging. These scans checked for short and long term changes in the brain’s white matter. The diffusion tensor imaging is an MRI-based imaging technique that makes it possible to view the properties of the brain’s white matter. Diffusion kurtosis tensor imaging is an extension of diffusion tensor imaging.

The imaging showed that concussed athletes had a reduction in water diffusion in the white matter at the 24-hour and 6-day checkups, compared with the group with no head injury. These changes continued to persist even six months after the injury. Patients with the most severe concussion symptoms were most likely to show these changes after six months.

Even though these differences were seen, there were no differences between the concussion and no concussion group in cognition, balance, and concussion symptoms.  

White matter plays a significant role in the transmission of nerve signals. White matter is made of myelinated nerve cell bundles that connect gray matter or nerve cells. Myelin acts as an insulator, increasing the speed of transmission of nerve signals.

This study replicates numerous other studies that axonal damage does occur in brain injuries, even without loss of consciousness.


Gordon Johnson

Attorney Gordon Johnson is one of the nations leading brain injury advocates. He is Past-Chair of the TBILG, a national group of more than 150 brain injury advocates. He has spoken at numerous brain injury seminars and is the author of some of the most read brain injury web pages on the internet.

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