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Concussions in young athletes are a very common form of traumatic brain injury, but the changes that occur in brain function because of those concussions have been poorly understood in the past. A recent University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine study linked changes in brain function directly to the recovery of the injured athlete.

The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health and was published in the journal Neurosurgery, the official journal of the Congress of Neurological Surgeons.

“These results confirm crucial objective information that is commonly obtained by neuropsychological testing to help team doctors and athletic trainers make critical decisions about concussion management and safe return to play,” according to principal researcher Mark Lovell, Ph.D., the founding director of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) Sports Medicine Concussion Program, a research program focused on the management of sports-related concussions.

The findings have several implications for understanding the recovery process after sports-related concussions.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, between 1.4 and 3.6 million sports and recreation-related concussions occur each year, with the majority happening at the high school level.

A concussion can occur when an athlete receives a traumatic force to the head or upper body that causes the brain to shake inside of the skull. Injury is defined as a concussion when it causes a change in mental status such as loss of consciousness, amnesia, disorientation, confusion or mental fogginess. The severity, effects and recovery of concussion are difficult to determine because no two concussions are alike, and symptoms are not always straightforward.

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