In research: What causes concussions?

What sort of blows result in a concussion?
What sort of blows result in a concussion?
While athletes and nonathletes alike suffer concussions, scientists still don't fully understand those brain injuries and are working to learn more about them.

And in a new report, researchers conclude that, if anything, the problem is more complicated than suspected. Here is the rundown:

What is a concussion? “A condition caused by injury to the head, characterized by headache, confusion and amnesia,” according to the Bantam Medical Dictionary.

How common are they?  In 2012, an estimated 329,290 people under age 19 were treated in emergency rooms for sports and recreation-related injuries that included a diagnosis of concussion or traumatic brain injury, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.         

The research: Using information taken from football players, along with computer simulations, researchers attempted to observe concussions and other mild traumatic brain injuries. These injuries arise when an area deep inside the brain shakes more intensely than surrounding areas. Previously, the lab of David Camarillo, an assistant professor of bioengineering at Stanford University, had outfitted 31 college football players with special mouth guards that recorded how players’ heads moved after an impact, including a few cases in which players suffered concussions, according to a Stanford news release.
    Mehmet Kurt and Kaveh Laksari, former postdoctoral fellows assisting Camarillo, used this data, along with data from NFL players, in developing a computer model of the brain to figure out what specifically happened in the brain that led to a concussion.

Concussion or not? Some blows lead to concussions and others don’t. “After an average hit, the researchers’ computer model suggests the brain shakes back and forth around 30 times a second in a fairly uniform way; that is, most parts of the brain move in unison,” the Stanford news release explains. In cases involving injury, it is different. “Instead of the brain moving largely in unison, an area deep in the brain called the corpus callosum ­– which connects the left and right halves of the brain – shakes more rapidly than the surrounding areas, placing significant strain on those tissues.”

The conclusion:  The researchers found no straightforward relationship between varying blows to the head and the likelihood of injury. The findings need to be tested in the lab with animal brains or human brains that have been donated for scientific study. Bottom line: More work is needed figure out what kinds of impacts give rise to concussions.

     The study, "Mechanistic Insights into Human Brain Impact Dynamics through Modal Analysis," by Kaveh Laksari, Mehmet Kurt, Hessam Babaee, Svein Kleiven, and David Camarillo was published in the journal Physical Letters.


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