Gains in Concussion Research
Concussions are a major concern for anyone playing sports. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 1.6 to 3.8 million sport-related concussions occur in the United States each year. The injury can occur when a sudden blow to the head shakes the brain inside the skull.
Often described as invisible injuries, concussions may lead to long-lasting problems with mobility, cognitive and sensory abilities. Here at Georgia Southern, researchers are focused on identifying and understanding the problems that may persist initially and well past recovery from a concussion.
“Once you sustain a concussion you are three times more likely to sustain a second injury within six months of your original injury,” noted Nicholas Murray, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the School of Health and Kinesiology. “It is critical to the health of our population, specifically our younger athletes, to research the acute and long-term impact of this devastating injury in hopes of providing new rehabilitation techniques and/or prevention models to mitigate the rising concussion rates.”
Murray leads the University’s interdisciplinary team of concussion researchers. Their work is unique in that it explores the visual system post-concussion injury. “Given that well over 90 percent of individuals with concussions demonstrate a visual dysfunction post-concussion and that the visual system interacts with well over 50 percent of all brain regions, it is critical to understand how the visual system is influenced and ultimately recovers post-injury,” he said. “Our work has provided the foundation for a novel quantitative line of research into the acute and long-term impacts of concussion on the brain and visual system.”
The College of Health and Human Sciences professor says the Wii Fit is the primary tool in their research. “It is an easy to use over-the-counter virtual reality device that allows the user to become the controller and use full body motions to interact with the virtual environment,” he explained. “Through this, we are able to evaluate functional human movements that were previously time consuming and difficult to capture in a safe and efficient manner.”
The University’s highly lauded concussion research program also explores the football team’s use of a hightech helmet or the Helmet Impact Telemetry System (HITS). The helmet measures and records every hit to the head during practices and games. Murray says their research currently appears to indicate that over the course of a single football season the players do not experience any adverse effects of the repetitive head impacts.
The concussion team’s research has resulted in publications, grant funding, international invited lectures and national awards. Murray says their “ultimate goal is to map the longitudinal impact of the visual and motor system post-concussion. By doing this we can hopefully then develop rehabilitation modalities that can aid in returning an individual with a concussion back to play/life/job in a more efficient and safe manner.”