A recent study found that athletes have reduced balance, brain function after concussion, and loss of cognitive function when returning to play. While a concussion is a relatively minor brain injury, and common to athletes in contact sports, it is important to take all the time needed to recover fully before returning to play.
Recommendations for athletes include consulting a sports medicine specialist when returning to play after an injury.
The study was written by Li-Shan Chou, PhD, and professor of physiology at the University of Oregon in Eugene, and colleagues and set out to examine how returning to sports after a concussion affected recovery.
A concussion is a brain injury marked by short-term loss of brain function following head trauma.
The research team studied 19 adolescents who had concussions and returned to play within two months of their injuries.
The study authors examined the participants five different times following their injuries. They tested the patients’ balance by asking them to walk and simultaneously complete a simple oral test, such as identifying whether a word was spoken in a high- or low-pitched tone.
Of the 19 athletes, 12 had more trouble with balancing or walking during the dual-task test than a group of athletes who did not have concussions. Of those 12, 10 had returned to play within a month of their injuries.
Returning to play appeared to slow recovery, the authors noted.
“There had been a continuous improvement prior to the athletes’ return to activity,” Dr. Chou said in a press release.
But, after they returned, “We saw a turn in their recovery in the opposite direction,” he said.
“I always leave the decision up to the athlete’s doctor but I believe in the athlete needing to be healthy before returning to play,” said Jim Crowell, head coach at Optimum Performance Training in Scottsdale, Arizona.