Aerobic exercise promotes post-concussion healing, researchers find

March 7, 2013 by Ellen Goldbaum, University at Buffalo
Aerobic exercise promotes post-concussion healing, UB researchers find
Research by John Leddy (right), Barry Willer and others has shown that aerobic exercise is effective in treating concussion patients.

(Medical Xpress)—Further evidence that a program of controlled, progressive aerobic exercise may help restore normal cognitive function in patients who have sustained a concussion has been published by researchers at the University at Buffalo School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.

The research also may demonstrate why post-concussion can often perform as well as normal controls, but use far more to do so and patients are often exhausted afterward, the UB researchers say.

The paper, "Exercise Treatment for Post-concussion Syndrome: A Pilot Study of Changes in Functional Activation, Physiology and Symptoms," was published online in the Journal of Head Trauma Rehabilitation in December.

In the study, patients who had sustained a concussion were either treated with or were treated with stretching exercises that did not raise heart rate.

The study used two primary indicators of success: daily symptoms and cognitive function as demonstrated on (fMRI) tests, while performing a simple arithmetic task.

At the start of the study, post-concussion syndrome patients in both groups showed on the advanced imaging studies, but at the completion of the study, only the patients treated in the graded exercise program returned to normal. The UB researchers found that patients treated with graded exercise also had a significant decline in symptoms, such as improved sleep and concentration, when compared with the patients treated with .

"It is rare to have such significant findings with a small sample study and especially to find such powerful evidence that after a concussion, patients can actually return to normal with graded exercise treatment," says John Leddy, MD, chief author on the paper and director of UB's Concussion Management Program.

At the start of the study, functional imaging demonstrated that all 10 of the patients with post-concussion syndrome showed a hypermetabolic state revealing altered cerebral blood flow, compared to the sample of normal subjects, Leddy explains.

"Only the patients treated with graded exercise had normal functional imaging results," he says. "The patients in the stretching exercise group have since been successfully treated with graded exercise."

Patients and normal controls were very similar in age, gender and athleticism.

"During the functional imaging study, everyone was given the same series of arithmetic tasks that could ordinarily be accomplished with ease by these young adults," says Barry Willer, PhD, co-author, director of research for the UB Concussion Management Clinic and professor in the UB Department of Psychiatry.

"The accuracy and speed of the patients and the normal subjects was indistinguishable," he says. "However, the normal subjects used a few specific regions of the brain to accomplish the task whereas the patients used multiple areas of the brain. Patients' brains were lit up like Christmas trees, reflecting hyperactivity of metabolism.

"This explains why patients with post-concussion syndrome look much the same as normal controls in terms of their performance on psychological tests, but when the test is over, the patient is exhausted," Willer continues.

"We hear about this often from students suffering from post-concussive effects," he continues. "They can make it through the first two classes of the day but their cognitive resources are all used up by the third class. It is wonderful when research evidence so carefully matches patients' realities."

Robert Zivadinov, MD, PhD, a co-author, UB neurology professor and director of the Buffalo Neuroimaging Analysis Center, says the study also points out some important differences in the brains of those with post-concussion syndrome not identified in previous research.

"Our patients with concussion had less activation in certain key areas of the brain compared with normal controls, such as the cerebellum, which is responsible for balance and coordination," Zivadinov explains. "They also had less activation in an area of the brain called the posterior cingulate, which is often underactive in brain studies of patients with dementia. The posterior cingulate is a relay station for multiple cognitive functions."

"It is evident from this study that when diagnosed correctly, post-concussion syndrome results in a temporary change in how the brain works," Leddy says. "These changes appear to arise from metabolic and physiologic changes rather than psychologic changes, as has been suggested in the past. In addition, the study shows that our graded exercise treatment appears to be able to restore normal function."

Explore further: A scientific approach to assessing return to play after concussion in NFL

Related Stories

A scientific approach to assessing return to play after concussion in NFL

September 12, 2012
(Medical Xpress)—After sustaining a concussion, when can an athlete safely return to play? That's the primary question for professional and amateur athletes alike.

Concussed triathlete back to winning races with help of new treatment protocol

December 9, 2011
(Medical Xpress) -- Former Olympian Jarrod Shoemaker was in the middle of the swimming portion of a triathlon in Hamburg, Germany, when the swimmer in front of him accidentally kicked him in the face. Shoemaker finished the ...

Standardized concussion-assessment gets hockey players healthily back on the ice

May 20, 2011
As the chase for the 2011 Stanley Cup heads to the finish, several players are off the ice suffering from concussion, an injury all too common in this contact sport.

MRI shows brain disruption in patients with post-concussion syndrome

November 21, 2012
MRI shows changes in the brains of people with post-concussion syndrome (PCS), according to a new study published online in the journal Radiology. Researchers hope the results point the way to improved detection and treatment ...

Recommended for you

Your brain responses to music reveal if you're a musician or not

January 23, 2018
How your brain responds to music listening can reveal whether you have received musical training, according to new Nordic research conducted in Finland (University of Jyväskylä and AMI Center) and Denmark (Aarhus University).

New neuron-like cells allow investigation into synthesis of vital cellular components

January 22, 2018
Neuron-like cells created from a readily available cell line have allowed researchers to investigate how the human brain makes a metabolic building block essential for the survival of all living organisms. A team led by researchers ...

Finding unravels nature of cognitive inflexibility in fragile X syndrome

January 22, 2018
Mice with the genetic defect that causes fragile X syndrome (FXS) learn and remember normally, but show an inability to learn new information that contradicts what they initially learned, shows a new study by a team of neuroscientists. ...

Epilepsy linked to brain volume and thickness differences

January 22, 2018
Epilepsy is associated with thickness and volume differences in the grey matter of several brain regions, according to new research led by UCL and the Keck School of Medicine of USC.

Research reveals atomic-level changes in ALS-linked protein

January 18, 2018
For the first time, researchers have described atom-by-atom changes in a family of proteins linked to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a group of brain disorders known as frontotemporal dementia and degenerative diseases ...

Fragile X finding shows normal neurons that interact poorly

January 18, 2018
Neurons in mice afflicted with the genetic defect that causes Fragile X syndrome (FXS) appear similar to those in healthy mice, but these neurons fail to interact normally, resulting in the long-known cognitive impairments, ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.