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Teenage Brains Take Longer To Heal From Concussions Than Previously Thought

Ralph Wilson
Athletes collide during the 2014 Class AAAA championship high school football game in Hershey, Pa. on Saturday, Dec. 13, 2014.

New data says concussions might take longer for high school athletes to heal from than previously thought. 

UPMC concussion specialist Micky Collins unveiled new insight into how concussions effect the teenage brain at a symposium for youth sports medicine Wednesday at Heinz Field. 

The results are from a study of more than 300 concussed high school athletes in western Pennsylvania. There are a few reasons the current data is showing longer recovery time than in years past, according to Collins. 

"We have ways of looking at this injury that we didn't have available, very sophisticated ways of measuring concussions such as neurocognitive testing," Collins said.

Collins said this also means there are more sophisticated ways of measuring if a patient is fully recovered and ready to play safely. UPMC's sports medicine physicians have identified six different kinds of concussions with varying symptoms, such as post-traumatic migraine and mood changes. Now, an athlete's recovery strategy can be tailored to the type they had.

The new data also gives insight into different risk factors that can extend the length of recovery when compounded. These factors include being younger than 16 years old, having a history of migraines and being female. 

"Soccer has the same rules and equipment for boys and girls, and girls have a higher concussion rate than boys, and the same thing happens in basketball," Collins said. "Which actually makes sense given neck strength, which can play a role in mitigating the injury."

Collins stressed the importance of coaches, parents and athletes responding to a suspected concussion as soon as possible. He said young athletes who play through the injury for even 20 minutes take twice as long to recover as an athlete taken off the field or court immediately.

Kathleen J. Davis covers news about just about anything at WESA. She’s also the primary reporter and producer of WESA’s weekly series Pittsburgh Tech Report. Kathleen originally hails from the great state of Michigan, and is always available to talk about suburban Detroit and Coney Island diners. She lives in Bloomfield.
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