Concussions Change Brain Structure

Study of hockey players reveals permanent alterations to brain

Feb 4, 2014
Outside Magazine

Scientists have shed new light on the effects of concussions.    Getty Images/iStockphoto

Concussions don't just shake up the brain, according to new research published in the Journal of Neurosurgery. After studying Canadian hockey players, scientists have determined that concussion patients experience acute microstructural changes in their brains.

As the New York Times reports, physicians observed 45 male and female Canadian collegiate hockey players during the 2011–2012 season. MRI scans of players who suffered concussions revealed microscopic white matter and inflammation in the brain. The microscopic white matter appeared drastically different from the white matter of patients with no concussion history.

Researchers say their findings could indicate microhemorrhaging, neural injury, or other responses to brain trauma, but caution that studies on larger populations of athletes are needed to validate their findings.

However, the study confirmed that concussions in hockey are three to five times higher than previously believed.

"How many more studies do we need before we realize significant changes are needed in the way we play the game?" said Paul Echlin, a sports concussion specialist who helped conduct the study. "We have to look seriously at the structure of the games our children play. We have to protect our children's brains."

For more about concussions, read our December feature about brain injuries.