First-of-Its-Kind Study Explains Why Rest Is Critical After a Concussion

Published in the March 2016 issue of American Journal of Pathology, a study about repeated mild head trauma was performed in order to investigate brain damage that occurs after a sports, military or domestic abuse injury.

Ever wonder why the doctor tells you to rest after you hit the deck hard, especially when your head is involved? It may seem intuitive, but this new study tells you that it is really important to rest at least 72 hours after a good hit to the head.

A medical group at the Georgetown University say rest, is critical for allowing the brain to “reset” neural networks and repair any short-term injury. The new study in mice also shows that repeated mild concussions with only a day to recover between injuries leads to mounting damage and brain inflammation that remains evident a year after injury.

The researchers developed a mouse model of repetitive, extremely mild concussive impacts. Say, like what you would get from ringing your head in a minor fall or hit on the field. They compared 3 things:

The brain’s response to a single concussion

A concussion every day for 30 days

One concussion received weekly over 30 weeks

I’m pretty sure that getting a concussion every day for 30 weeks will never be studied in humans, but sustaining a concussion once a month is a pretty relevant scenario.

The results showed that mice with a single concussion temporarily lose 10-15 percent of the neuronal connections in their brains, but no inflammation or cell death resulted. This pretty much sums up a TBI (traumatic brain injury). And what is important here is that with 3 days of rest, all neuronal connections were restored. This neuronal healing was not seen in mice with daily concussions.

When a mild concussion occurred each day for a month, inflammation and damage to the brain’s white matter resulted. This goes more into mixed TBI and CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy) territory. These guys also found that the damage became progressively worse for two months and remained apparent one year after the last impact.

The good news of this study is that the brain can recover from a hit if given enough time to rest and recover. But on the flip side, the brain does not undertake this “rebalancing” when the impacts come too close together.

The findings mirror what has been observed about concussions in humans’ years after a brain injury, especially among soldiers and athletes. It is pretty clear that almost everyone with single concussions spontaneously recover. But athletes who play contact sports or soldiers in the field are much more susceptible to lasting brain damage.

Hopefully this helps fill in the picture of how and when concussions and mild head trauma can lead to sustained brain damage. This information is relevant to just about anyone who is at risk for head injuries. For example, if you are training for MMA, and your sparing session went just a bit too far, then the results of this study would tell the athlete to go rest for 3 days. I know this sounds like a lot, but think about the long term effects of repetitive concussions. And when I talk about resting for 3 days, I would not tell you to rest on the couch and just check out. Rather, go outside and get some quality sun light or do a light hike on the rocks. Perform some intermittent fasting. Increase the frequency of your meditation sessions. Perform some functional work increasing your mobility. Practice your brain training games such as learning a language on an app like Duolingo. And be darned sure that you get some proper sleep and that your circadian rhythms are in check.

Doctors who order several days of rest after a person suffers a concussion are giving sound advice, so give a thought about what your plans might be the next time you sustain a head injury and follow through with it.

Cites

Dendritic Spine Loss and Chronic White Matter Inflammation in a Mouse Model of Highly Repetitive Head TraumaThe American Journal of Pathology, 2016; DOI: 10.1016/j.ajpath.2015.11.006
This article is meant for information purposes only and is not intended to treat or diagnose any medical condition. Please consult your physician if you have a head injury. For more information about performance and nutrition, follow Doc Edwards on his twitter DocEdwards5, on Facebook page Doc Edwards Health & Fitness or visit his homepage www.DocEdwardsFitness.com