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Sports Medicine: New postconcussive treatment pioneered at UB

Sports medicine specialists in the UB Sports Medicine Institute have developed a new method for treating athletes who sustain post-concussion syndrome that, unlike the conventional approach, allows athletes to maintain conditioning while recovering gradu-ally from the injury.

For unknown reasons, five to 10 percent of people who experience a concussion have symptoms that persist beyond six weeks. These individuals are diagnosed with post-concussion syndrome (PCS). Previously, there has been no treatment for the condition with proven success.

Barry Willer

Willer

“The most common approach by physicians is to recommend no exercise and prescribe antidepressants,” says Barry Willer, UB professor of psychiatry and rehabilitation sciences. Willer is lead author on the paper describing the new method, published in the September 2006 issue of Current Treatment Options in Neurology.

“Most people with PCS have symptoms of depression,” says Willer, “so antidepressant treatment makes sense. However, antide-pressants do little more than relieve some of the depression symptoms. We were interested in a treatment that didn’t just treat the symptoms, but actually improved the patient’s brain function.”

The researchers call their new treatment “regulated exercise.” The approach consists of determining the ideal exercise program for each athlete based on a number of individual physiological indicators at baseline. Patients are tested every two to three weeks with specialized equipment at the sports medicine clinic to determine their progress, and a new program is developed based on those results.

Willer and coauthor John Leddy, clinical associate professor of orthopaedics and rehabilitation sciences, indicated it is too early to call the treatment a cure, but they are optimistic about the results so far.

The specialists have worked with a small number of patients to date. They have included a UB soccer player who has returned to play and now is one of the team’s leading scorers. Another young athlete was able to return to cross-country running and to attend school full time.