UNC researchers take the lead in concussion research project

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WNCN) – The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is taking the lead in a new multi-million dollar concussion research project funded by the National Football League.

The goal of the project is to help athletes recover from concussion symptoms. Researchers at UNC and the Medical College of Wisconsin will lead the study, which will include more than 200 high school, college, and professional athletes from a variety of sports who have suffered concussions.

Dr. Johna Register-Mihalik, an assistant professor in UNC’s Department of Exercise and Sport Science, said the research will help athletic trainers and coaches move from a “sort of sit back and wait” management approach to processes which will involve treatment and therapy.

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“This is really looking at that recovery spectrum and can we change that recovery process, and can we put them in a better situation to return to play in a more safe and effective manner,” Register-Mihalik said.

The NFL is spending $2.6-million on the study. It will include North American football players, including some professionals in the Canadian Football League, as well as athletes in rugby, soccer, lacrosse, basketball, and ice hockey.

Researchers will review how concussions may vary depending on the sport, age, and gender of the athlete. Register-Mihalik said they don’t know if different treatments may benefit different groups of people, which is something the researchers hope to determine.

The study will include a clinical evaluation of the current international return to play guidelines. Representatives of FIFA, World Rugby, the International Olympic Committee, the International Ice Hockey Federation, and the International Federation for Equestrian Sports met in October for an International Consensus Conference on Concussion in Sport. They released a list of steps to follow so injured athletes do not resume their sports too quickly.

“There have been really very few studies that have evaluated that sort of cornerstone and core piece of how we might return someone to sports participation, regardless of what age they are,” Register-Mihalik said.

“The other option is really attempting to look at more early intervention strategies in the context of that gradual return to play progression. Where we’re able to understand, can we intervene early and we look at these different ways of approaching concussion management and which one is better? We don’t know the answer to that.”

She said head injuries will continue to happen in sports, and while work is ongoing to prevent as many of them as possible, sport scientists and athletic trainers want to make sure the best treatment options are available.

“To help individuals not only return to play sooner and more safely, but to really improve their overall quality of life should they suffer one of those injuries,” she said.

Other North Carolina schools participating in the international research project are North Carolina Central University, Elon University, and Catawba College.

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