Elon researchers, student-athletes to participate in NFL-funded study on concussion management
The three-year study led by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the Medical College of Wisconsin will look at active rehabilitation strategies for athletes who suffer a concussion.
A new three-year study funded by the National Football League that could impact recommendations for how athletes are treated following a concussion will include researchers and student-athletes at Elon University.
The $2.3 million grant from the NFL will support an international effort to determine the effectiveness of active rehabilitation strategies for concussion management, with the research to be led by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the Medical College of Wisconsin.
Included in the study group along with Elon student-athletes will be professional athletes from the Canadian Football League and New Zealand Rugby, as well as amateur athletes from other American and Canadian colleges and universities and high school athletes in Wisconsin. The research will cover a broad range of sports including football, rugby, soccer, lacrosse, basketball and ice hockey.
“Currently there’s little information available about the most effective strategies to manage and treat concussion,” said Johna Register-Mihalik, the co-principal investigator at UNC who is an assistant professor of exercise and sport science in UNC’s College of Arts & Sciences and a faculty member of the Matthew Gfeller Sport-Related Traumatic Brain Injury Research Center and the Injury Prevention Research Center. “We want to see how early clinically guided activity could benefit recovery from concussion.”
Elon’s participation in the study, which is one of the first of its kind, stems from the university’s BrainCARE Research Institute, which focuses on research and education about concussions and mental wellness. Register-Mihalik and other UNC researchers are among the institute’s collaborators.
Heading the research effort at Elon will be Caroline Ketcham and Eric Hall, co-directors of the Elon BrainCARE Research Institute and professors of exercise science. Hall and Ketcham said the goal of the research will be to see if there is a difference in recovery time from using treatments that begin before someone suffering from a concussion is completely without symptoms. That could include a broad range of options such as riding a bike or performing dual-task cognitive exercises.
“Right now, the protocol is to not do any rehab until they are asymptomatic,” Ketcham said. “Through the study, trainers will be involved with some active rehabilitation measures sooner.”
For nearly a decade, Elon has been involved in concussion research that has included establishing neurocognitive baselines for student-athletes that are useful in examining the impact on their brains and bodies from a concussion and determining the best path for them to return to play and return to learning. Involvement in the NFL-funded study will involve new neurocognitive baselines for Elon student-athletes, a process that will be undertaken this summer and early fall.
If a student-athlete sustains a concussion, they will be treated with a protocol using active measures, with additional follow-up testing beyond what Elon now performs. In a typical year, the Elon sports medicine staff treats 30 to 40 concussions.
Hall notes that at the 5 International Conference on Concussion in Sport held in Berlin in October, which he and Ketcham attended, there was significant interest in active rehabilitation research. It’s likely that the data collected through this study, which is one of the larger on the topic, will play a role in the next international consensus statement that offers recommendations on concussion treatment, he said.
According to Michael McCrea, the co-principal investigator at the Medical College of Wisconsin, “a major goal of the study is not only to find out what works best in terms of rehabilitative strategies for concussion, but to also determine the real-world approaches and return-to-play strategies.”
Other U.S. colleges and universities included in the study are Catawba College, Lynchburg College and N.C. Central University. Canadian universities include the University of Alberta and York University.