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5-year Western University study suggests repeated concussions lead to larger brain changes

A Western University study involving 52 female rugby players over the course of five years is offering new insights into the impact of a concussion on the brain.

Of the 52 athletes from the women’s varsity rugby team at Western who volunteered, 21 suffered at least one concussion. Researchers used a technique combining structural and functional MRI information to show a more complete picture of the impact of a concussion on the brain.

While some brain changes recovered quickly, some lasted for six months after the injury.

“These changes actually correlated with their concussion history,” study author Dr. Kathryn Manning told 980 CFPL.

“Those that had more previous concussions actually showed more changes on the MRI scan.”

The study, in collaboration with researchers from the Donders Institute in the Netherlands, suggests the current method of diagnosing a concussion is not sensitive to longer-term brain changes and may see athletes cleared to play sooner than they should be because of a lack of physical symptoms.

“The reason that they don’t have these symptoms is that the brain is able to compensate and work around these areas of damage. The question remains how long they are able to accommodate for this underlying damage.”

Manning added that they want athletes to continue playing these sports, but stresses there should be no rush to get back into play.

“Allow enough time for your brain to have a chance to breathe and heal. If you have had multiple concussions, then that’s time to start thinking about being a little more careful with your brain.”

Manning says they hope to continue following up to find out exactly what these brain changes mean in the long term.

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