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By On March 21st, 2019

Concussions may leave military members at increased risk for physical injury

New research from the University of Pittsburgh suggests that concussions in veterans can cause neuromuscular changes which could leave military personnel at risk for physical injuries after a brain injury.

“Similar to findings of research in athletes, neuromuscular differences are detectable in military personnel following concussion compared to those with no concussion history,” Shawn R. Eagle, a doctoral research fellow at the University of Pittsburgh, in Pennsylvania, told Reuters Health by email.

“Military personnel suffer an exceptionally high rate of musculoskeletal injuries, as well as concussions,” he noted. “If these neuromuscular deficits following concussion are in fact related to increased musculoskeletal injury risk, finding a test (or a series of tests) that is valid and reliable and can be used in clinics can improve our understanding of when it is appropriate to return a recently concussed athlete to play or a concussed soldier to duty.”

The findings come from a small study of 24 concussed male Air Force and Naval Special Warfare Operators between the ages of 19 and 34, as well as 24 control participants. According to the report published in the journal Medicine & Science, the concussed individuals had experienced a brain injury between one month and two years before the study.

Based on the findings, the concussed participants showed faster time to peak knee flexion angle during single-leg standing, compared to control participants. They also had a longer time to peak torque in knee extension isokinetic strength testing, and larger knee flexion angle at initial contact.

“Concussion may influence some athletes’ biomechanics in a way that might increase musculoskeletal injury risk,” co-author Dr. Anthony P. Kontos, also at the University of Pittsburgh, told Reuters Health by email. “In short, their movement may become more protective in nature following concussion, which paradoxically may increase their injury risk.”

“These findings emphasize the importance of assessing athletes’ responses to dynamic physical movements prior to clearing them for return to play following a concussion,” he advised. “We still need to connect changes in movement timing and muscular activation to subsequent injury risk. We also need to develop systematic and clinically feasible dynamic exertion tests to use with concussed athletes before clearing them for return to play.”

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