A recent University of Michigan study on concussions among college athletes found the timeline for concussion recovery can take up to 28 days, as opposed to the previously suggested 14 days. With a $42.65 million grant, the concussion study is believed to be the largest of its kind in history.
The grant was split between $25 million from the U.S. Army Medical Research and Development Command, $10 million from the National Collegiate Athletic Association and $7.65 from the U.S. Defense Health Agency.
The study was conducted by Steve Broglio, head director of the U-M concussion center and member of the CARE Consortium — the NCAA-U.S. Department of Defense’s Concussion Assessment, Research and Education leadership team. Broglio and his colleagues began the study in 2014 at 30 sites across the country, including four military academies. They enrolled all eligible varsity athletes and service academy cadets.
A total of 1,751 concussion cases were included in the study, with results showing 85% of people took over one month to be cleared for unrestricted participation in sports after a concussion.
“We need to reframe the normal recovery time because there’s variability in how people recover from all injuries,” Broglio said.
LSA freshman Tyler McLaurin, a linebacker on the U-M football team, said many coaches and athletic trainers have talked to the team about the findings of the study given the high number of concussions in football. McLaurin said he believes extending recovery time is beneficial in the long run even if it keeps players off of the field temporarily.
“I think that it hurts a person at the moment, but it is about more than just football,” McLaurin said. “Concussions are long term and can affect a person in more ways than just the physical symptoms.”
A main goal of the study was to normalize longer recovery rates, according to Broglio. Broglio said if sports teams follow the current medical literature, anyone who has 14 or more days of recovery time is “bucketed into the abnormal recovery group, even though they’re a 51st-percentile person.”
The “abnormal” label given to athletes can be mentally demanding, Broglio said, and can often cause them to put their athletic career before their physical health. Broglio said he has heard of many injuries ignored or not reported until after an event.
“A concussion is unique in that if an athlete wants to hide it, it can be hidden,” Broglio said. “From a psychological standpoint, we’re trying to reduce inadvertent pressure on teammates, coaches and parents to get somebody back to play, by reframing this from a more holistic manner.”
McLaurin also said he believes concussed student-athletes should have post-concussion recovery time in order to catch up on academic work.
“I feel as though it is much harder to catch up after a concussion,” McLaurin said. “I have seen people force themselves to grind for days at a time in order to try to learn the information during their concussion while everything that is going on around them in class.”
The paper also found minimal differences between how men and women recover. In addition, the study analyzed recovery time between concussions from contact versus non-contact sports. Overall, the study found there were not significant differences in recovery time in different sports, according to Broglio.
“Those differences are really a day or two away, which in the grand scheme of things doesn’t really mean much,” Broglio said. “This allows clinicians to have a unified approach to concussion management. They don’t need to make special circumstances for the football athlete versus the cross country runner, etc.”
In addition, individuals with their first, second and third injuries all recovered at approximately the same rate. It wasn’t until the fourth injury that researchers started seeing longer recovery periods. Broglio emphasized that the “longer” recovery period is only a day or two different than the normal one found in the study.
“There’s certainly not this idea of ‘three concussions and you’re done with your career,’” Broglio said. “Those decisions are made on an individual basis, based on severity, the goals of the athletes and other personal factors.”
LSA freshman Hunter Thomson, a U-M varsity golfer, believes non-contact-sport athletes should also take concussions seriously. Though Thompson has never gotten a concussion himself, he hopes to pass the findings of the study along to friends and teammates.
“This information is very important, and by the sounds of it, it could help possibly elongate the careers of athletes,” Thompson said.
Broglio plans to use his grant for a future study that will consist of two phases. The first five years of the study will involve online evaluations, imaging studies, bloodwork, full neuropsychology evaluations, clinical exams and DNA capture of current subjects. The second phase will further explore how concussions affect aspects of the subjects’ future lives.
“The main goal is to continue tracking the individuals through middle age and older adulthood to understand who ends up with poor outcomes and who doesn’t, and why,” Broglio said. “This will all help us get a handle on the long-term effects of injury.”
McLaurin said many athletes are passionate about following the findings of the study in order to put their health first.
“This is more than a game,” McLaurin said. “Football and all sports are just for a small amount of time. Sports end for various reasons, such as injuries or old age, so it is necessary to be ready for backup plans. Concussions ruin the idea of backup plans because it dents the mental health and capability of a person.”
Daily Staff Reporter Ashna Mehra can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.