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UPMC Researchers Find Early Indicators May Predict Recovery Time from Sports Concussions

PITTSBURGH, Feb. 27, 2012 – The unpredictable nature of concussions is one of the most frustrating factors to the millions of sufferers each year, but early neurological indicators and symptoms can predict a protracted healing time in certain cases, according to specialists at UPMC and the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

“It’s a highly variable injury with a variety of outcomes,” said Michael “Micky” Collins, Ph.D.,  director of the UPMC Sports Medicine Concussion Program and co-investigator of the Pitt/UPMC study published in the February issue of Neurosurgery. “We see some patients who take a day or two to recover, and some who take a year or longer to recover. If clinicians had a way of determining within two days of injury who’s going to take a month or longer to recover, that’s a very important piece of information to have. It’s a game-changer.”

The study, one of the first to examine concussion prognoses, showed that specific neurocognitive “cut-off” scores derived from ImPACT™ (Immediate Post-concussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing) improved clinicians’ ability to predict which sports-related concussions could take longer — as much as five times longer — to rehabilitate than others. They found, in as many as 85 percent of the cases, the scores could warn athletes, parents, coaches, schools, teams and health professionals when a concussion is likely to take on average a month to heal.

Such an objective prognosis could help clinicians to better prepare a treatment plan, arrange academic accommodations for students and set tangible expectations for return to play and school, Dr. Collins said.

The study reviewed 108 high-school football players who were given ImPACT tests within a median of two days after their concussions. Fifty boys experienced a recovery lasting, on average, 33 days before returning to play, and those longer rehabilitations could be forecast by specific “cut-off” scores in ImPACT Visual and Processing Speed testing. Migraine and cognitive symptoms also appeared to have predictive power. Study participants who scored above the threshold levels recovered within a median of seven days.

“We’ve established statistical ‘cut-offs’ that indicate people who take a month or longer to recover,” Dr. Collins said. “Eighty percent of concussed people recover inside of three weeks. This prognostic information allows us to develop a risk profile of athletes who don’t recover well from this injury.

Other study authors include Brian Lau, B.S., from the Pitt School of Medicine, and Mark Lovell, Ph.D., the Concussion Program’s founding director who retired from UPMC last summer.

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