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Sports experience linked to better performance recovery after concussion

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Young people who have played sports for several years tend to make a faster recovery from concussion, according to new research.

The Canadian study suggests that sports experience may help protect children’s brains against future concussions.

Researchers at York University’s Faculty of Health found that children with a history of concussion, and who have participated in a performance sport for at least seven years, did better in hand-eye coordination tasks than others who have fewer years in the sport.

Sports experience may give young people more skill-related motor “reserve” that helps them get back to the level they were playing at previously, the researchers believe.

“Our results suggest there’s an advantage to staying with skilled activity to the point where your brain can maintain performance even when it’s still being affected in subtle ways by a past injury,” explained senior author Lauren Sergio, professor in the School of Kinesiology & Health Science and Centre for Vision Research at York University. “This performance may be protective and would reduce vulnerability to another concussion when playing with non-concussed peers.”

The study involved 126 football, hockey and lacrosse players aged 8-17 years old. Of these, 64 had a history of concussion and were classed as “asymptomatic” in accordance with current return-to-play protocol guidelines. The other 62 had no previous concussion.

After the participants performed two touchscreen-based hand-eye coordination tasks, the researchers analysed the relationship between their performance and concussion history, and whether age, sex, number of concussions, and years of experience in their sport affected skill recovery.

Findings published in the European Journal of Sport Science show that young people with a concussion history and longer sport experience (7-12 years) reached a performance level matching their control-group peers quicker (after 12 months) than those with concussion history and 1-6 years of sport experience (recovery after 30 months). This effect was independent of the number of concussions, age and sex.

The research “demonstrates that athletes with more years of experience return to pre-concussion levels more quickly than inexperienced athletes,” said co-author Alison Macpherson, professor in York’s School of Kinesiology & Health Science. “This can be one factor to help guide decisions about returning athletes to play.”