Detecting Concussion Recovery in Children: A Breakthrough Discovery

Blood protein could help detect delayed concussion recovery in children

Researchers at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute have uncovered a promising finding that could change how we identify children at risk for prolonged concussion symptoms after an injury.

What They Found:
A specific blood protein called Alpha-1-antichymotrypsin (alpha-1-ACT) appears to be linked with delayed recovery from concussions in children.

Why It Matters:
For parents, this means potentially being able to predict if their child might have longer-lasting symptoms after a head injury.

Mackenzie’s Experience:
Mackenzie, 16, suffered a severe concussion during a netball match that left her with ongoing symptoms for months. She described her experience, saying, “I was knocked out while jumping mid-air, the force spinning me 180 degrees, and then I landed on my head for a second blow. When I woke up, I couldn’t see out of my eye and I was lying in a pool of my own blood. I felt dizzy, confused, and everything became a blur.”

To help her recover, Mackenzie was enrolled in MCRI’s Concussion Essentials Plus program for children with chronic persisting concussion symptoms. It involved weekly physiotherapy and psychology treatments spanning months and education around return to exercise, school and sports.

“It was a slow recovery process, but the intervention helped me return to my normal self again,” she said. All I wanted was to be back on the netball court. I didn’t understand at the time how much of a long-term impact concussion can have.”

Mackenzie returned to netball five months after the injury.

“I’m more hesitant and cautious on the court now but I would never give up playing netball, I love the sport too much,” she said.

Mackenzie’s mum, Karen Payne, who will never forget the image of her daughter lying unconscious on the court, said the latest MCRI research would come as a welcome relief to families.

The Study Details:
Researchers collected blood samples from children (ages five to 18) who came to the emergency department within 48 hours of a concussion. They found that children with lower levels of alpha-1-ACT were more likely to experience prolonged symptoms.

The Impact:
Concussions affect millions of children each year, and up to 30% of them can have symptoms lasting beyond two weeks. This discovery could lead to better treatment and support for those at risk.

What Parents Can Do:
Early detection is key. If your child has a concussion and you notice symptoms like headaches, sensitivity to light, or memory issues lasting longer than expected, it’s important to seek medical advice promptly.

The updated consensus findings aimed to change how concussion was viewed across sporting codes, recreational sports and within medical clinics and emergency departments by overhauling exercise and rehabilitation methods and upgrading return-to-school and return-to-sport protocols.

Another concussion management tool, the HeadCheck App, designed by child concussion experts at MCRI in collaboration with The Royal Children’s Hospital and the Australian Football League (AFL), also helps recognise concussion early and manage recovery.

While more research is needed, the findings could pave the way for improved care and targeted treatments for children with concussions.