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New research shows why rest after a concussion is critical

"We find that the brain does not undertake this rebalancing when impacts come too close together," said neuroscientist Mark P. Burns.

By
Brooks Hays
St. Louis Rams quarterback Tony Banks rubs his head as he is helped to the locker room by a team trainer, after being hit hard by the Carolina Panthers defense, in the second quarter, November 23, 1997. Banks remained out of the game with a mild concussion. New research is helping scientists why rest is important for recovery in the wake of a concussion. Photo by UPI/rw/Bill Greenblatt
St. Louis Rams quarterback Tony Banks rubs his head as he is helped to the locker room by a team trainer, after being hit hard by the Carolina Panthers defense, in the second quarter, November 23, 1997. Banks remained out of the game with a mild concussion. New research is helping scientists why rest is important for recovery in the wake of a concussion. Photo by UPI/rw/Bill Greenblatt | License Photo

WASHINGTON, Feb. 5 (UPI) -- The brain's ability to recover from injury is remarkable, but it needs time and rest. New research out of the Georgetown University Medical Center is helping neuroscientists understand why.

New data from animal models show the brain fails to undergo the proper repairs when not given enough time after an injury.

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To test the restorative abilities of the animal brain, researchers at Georgetown subjected lab mice to a series of concussions -- some to a single mild concussion every day for 30 days, some to a single mild concussion weekly for 30 weeks.

Some mice were also subjected to just one concussion in order to establish a baseline of recovery. Those mice lost 10 to 15 percent of the neuronal connections in their brains in the short term, but experienced no inflammation or cell death.

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Those recovery abilities were significantly weakened when mice experience daily concussions. These mice did experience inflammation and cell death.

"This damage became progressively worse for two months and remained apparent one year after the last impact," Mark P. Burns, an assistant professor of neuroscience at GUMC and director of the Laboratory for Brain Injury and Dementia, said in a press release.

Mice that were allowed a week of recovery in between each concussion experienced recovery and neural restorative patterns in line with the baseline. For these mice, all neuronal connections were restored with three days of rest.

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"It is good news that the brain can recover from a hit if given enough time to rest and recover," Burns said. "But on the flip side, we find that the brain does not undertake this rebalancing when impacts come too close together."

Burns in the lead author of a new study on the research, published this week in The American Journal of Pathology.

"The findings mirror what has been observed about such damage in humans years after a brain injury, especially among athletes," Burns added. "Studies have shown that almost all people with single concussions spontaneously recover, but athletes who play contact sports are much more susceptible to lasting brain damage. These findings help fill in the picture of how and when concussions and mild head trauma can lead to sustained brain damage."

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