Drawing from his extensive research and scholarship, Eric Hall debunked many of the popular misperceptions about concussions — who is most at risk, how it impacts the body and how a person recovers.

Hall, professor of exercise science and faculty athletics representative, provided these insights into the latest concussion research and his long-time focus on the relationship between mental health and physical activity during the 2017 Distinguished Scholar Lecture in February. Hall received the Distinguished Scholar Award in spring 2016 in recognition of his contributions to research and scholarship.

For instance, many believe there are hard and fast rules for recovering from a concussion, and in doing so ignore the many variables that can impact how a person experiences the injury, and how long it takes to come back from it. The “three strikes” belief — that a person should retire from sports after experiencing three concussions, doesn’t take into account that variability, Hall said.

Eric Hall, professor of exercise science, delivers the 2017 Distinguished Scholar Lecture

“There really is no predicting how many concussions a person can sustain before they need to retire,” Hall explained to the crowd at the lecture. “Three concussions in 10 years is different from three concussions in one or two years. And if you can recover within that typical seven- to 10-day window or sooner, a doctor may not be as concerned.”

Hall initiated about eight years ago a collaboration with Elon’s Athletics Department that included performing baseline concussions testing on athletes that can be invaluable if a student-athlete is injured. That ongoing testing also provided Hall and his fellow researchers a large pool of data to help delve into the impact of concussions on cognitive function, and has assisted in the development of “return-to-play” and “return-to-learn” guidelines for those who sustain concussions.

Those efforts led to the creation of the Elon BrainCARE Research Institute, which Hall co-directs with Caroline Ketcham, associate professor of exercise science. The institute creates an umbrella under which to pursue a variety of research interests as well as collaborations with other academics and clinicians, with the broader goal to also educate the public about concussions.

In June, the National Football League issued a $2.3 million grant to support an international effort to determine the effectiveness of active rehabilitation strategies for concussion management. The study will include Elon researchers and student-athletes, and will be led by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the Medical College of Wisconsin.

Elon BrainCare Research Institute is partnering with the National Football League on a concussion studyIncluded 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.”

Hall and Ketcham will head the research effort at Elon. They 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.

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. The NFL-funded study will involve new neurocognitive baselines for Elon student-athletes. 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.