Concussion research

Loughborough University's world-leading concussion research has direct practical implications for concussion in sport.

Sports players are at risk of head injuries and potentially concussion in any contact sport. Concussion is recognised as one of the most common injuries in many contact sports, such as rugby and football.

Most people will recover from a concussion, however, multiple head injuries or improperly treated ones can lead to long-term problems, including chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a condition which can cause memory, mood, and thinking difficulties. Over time, CTE can also cause dementia.

Multiple ex-rugby players in the UK have been diagnosed with early-onset dementia, believed to be the result of CTE caused by multiple concussions from sports participation. Given there’s currently no way to diagnose CTE while a person is alive, being able to better diagnose concussions as soon as they happen may be important for preventing this condition from developing in the first place. This immediate intervention may be an important step in preventing neurodegenerative problems, such as CTE, from developing.

Concussion presently can be hard to diagnose and is often missed, especially where a structured evaluation by an expert clinician is not possible or available. Our work at Loughborough University may reduce the risk of missing this type of injury at all levels of participation, but also provide objective measures of concussion.

Research in focus

The effect of Neurocognition, Vestibular-Oculomotor Function and Symptom Burden on perceived academic in acutely concussed in university aged student-athletes

Our research is exploring how long recovery of neurocognition, vestibular-oculomotor function and symptom burden takes in rugby union student-athletes. By developing a tool to measure academic impairment, we are able to determine whether impaired academic ability alters the success rate of recovery following a concussion. We are also investigating how early aerobic exercise rather than physically resting post-concussion affects these recovery trajectories.

Project researchers: Kerry Glendon, Dr Matt Pain, Dr Glen Blenkinsop

Funders: Musculoskeletal Association of Chartered Physiotherapists, Association of Chartered Physiotherapists in Sports and Exercise Medicine

Research outputs:

  • Yener N, Glendon K, Pain MTG. (2022). The association between sport-related concussion and musculoskeletal injury in university rugby athletes. Physical therapy in sport May 6;55:264-270. DOI: 10.1016/j.ptsp.2022.05.001
  • Glendon K, Desai A, Blenkinsop G, Belli A, Pain M. (2022). Recovery of symptoms, neurocognitive and vestibular-ocular-motor function and academic ability after sports-related concussion (SRC) in university-aged student-athletes: a systematic review. Brain Injury Mar 21;36(4):455-468. DOI: 10.1080/02699052.2022.2051740
  • Glendon K, Blenkinsop G, Belli A, Pain M. (2021). Prospective study with specific Re-Assessment time points to determine time to recovery following a Sports-Related Concussion in university-aged student-athletes. Physical Therapy in Sport Nov;5;52;287-296. DOI: 10.1016/j.ptsp.2021.10.008
  • Glendon K, Desai A, Blenkinsop G, Belli A, Pain M. (2021). Does Vestibular-Ocular-Motor (VOM) Impairment Affect Time to Return to Play, Symptom Severity, Neurocognition and Academic Ability in Student-Athletes following acute Concussion? Brain Injury Jun 7:35(7):788-797. DOI: 10.1080/02699052.2021.1911001

Sociocultural approaches to concussion and sport

This research aims to enhance the health and wellbeing of sports participants through an exploration of the socio-cultural dimensions of concussion and sport. This research seeks to understand knowledge of and behaviour towards concussion in sport, how this impacts on the management of and rehabilitation from concussion, and how sports can be regulated to enhance the safeguarding of participants. Research explores the problems clinicians experience in managing concussion injuries, the experiences of participants in response to concussion injuries, the impact of concussion policies, and the media portrayal of concussion and dementia.

Project researcher: Dr Dominic Malcolm

Funders: British Academy, Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (Canada), British Council

Research outputs:

  • Malcolm D. (2021). The Impact of the Concussion Crisis on Safeguarding in Sport, Frontiers in Sports and Active Living. 3:589341. DOI: 10.3389/fspor.2021.589341
  • Malcolm D, Bachynski K, Doherty A, Sanderson J. (2021). A Sociocultural research agenda for concussion and sport, Frontiers in Sport and Active Living: DOI: 10.3389/fspor.2021.754002
  • Malcolm D. (2021). Soccer, CTE and the Cultural Representation of Dementia, Sociology of Sport Journal, 38(1) 26-35. DOI: 10.1123/ssj.2019-0113
  • Malcolm D. (2020). The Concussion Crisis in Sport. London: Routledge
  • Malcolm D. (2018). Concussion in sport: public, professional and critical sociologies, Sociology of Sport Journal, 35(2): 141-148. DOI: 10.1123/ssj.2017-0113
  • Liston K, McDowell M, Malcolm D, Scott A, Waddington I. (2018). ‘On Being “Head Strong”: The Pain Zone and Concussion in Non-Elite Rugby Union’, International Review for the Sociology of Sport: 53(6) 668–684, DOI: 10.1177/1012690216679966

Concussion, heading and dementia risk in retired professional football players

We investigated dementia risk in retired professional football players and controls using survey and objective cognitive testing. Results are embargoed but will be realised pending publication. Prior to this involvement, our academics were asked to provide expertise as part of a group of scientists on this matter for the Alzheimer’s Society and have given several public talks and interviews for BBC radio since then on this topic as expert. For more information, visit our dementia research webpages.

Researcher: Prof Eef Hogervorst

Funder: Football Association (FA)

Research outputs:

Developing virtual reality concussion testing in a Computer Assisted Rehabilitation Environment (CAREN)

Previous research using visual only virtual reality (VR) systems has shown that athletes can pass common tests but fail when taking visually based VR tests. With the CAREN system we can also add movement perturbations to the sensory input or require the athlete to take the test using actual whole-body movements as the control method. This latter format would replicate the real world needs of athletes where decision making, cognitive function and movement control are needed simultaneously. The purpose of this project is to develop a neuropsychological testing procedure using VR within a motion sensing CAREN system to assess cognitive function whilst incorporating simultaneous balance assessment and whole-body motion as the controller to develop a more sensitive and sport specific concussion testing, monitoring and rehabilitation methodology.

Project researchers: Dr Matt Pain, Dr Glen Blenkinsop

Research outputs:

  • Pain MTG, Burnie L, Blenkinsop GM. (2015). Developing concussion testing in a computer assisted rehabilitation environment (CAREN).  Proceedings of the XXV Congress of the International Society of Biomechanics, Glasgow Scotland, July 2015.

Loughborough University Concussion IDentification (LUCID) eye tracking research

Sports players are at risk of head injuries and potentially concussion in any contact sport. Existing practice for measuring concussion during sporting events is highly subjective. More objective measures of concussion which provide rapid results are required to establish whether a player is able to continue or needs to be removed from the game. Eye movement tasks are able to distinguish between healthy and unhealthy/abnormal patterns of eye movements. During a concussion, neural pathways are disrupted, leading to measurable deficits in attention. This research is demonstrating the utility of using a smartphone-based eye tracking system which could effectively measure the attentional deficits associated with concussion and provide immediate feedback regarding whether a player can continue playing. By utilising smartphone devices, the concussion tool would be easy to take to any sporting event and be available for all levels of any sport, from professional to amateur grassroots.

Project researchers: Thom Wilcockson

Research outputs:

  • Wilcockson TDW. (2017). Using eye trackers as indicators of diagnostic markers: Implications from HCI devices. Smart Innovation, Systems and Technologies. (pp. 308-315). Springer, Cham. DOI: 10.1007/978-3-319-59424-8_29
  • Zhang Y, Wilcockson TDW, Kwang IK, Crawford TJ, Gellersen H, Sawyer P. (2016). Monitoring Dementia with Automatic Eye Movements Analysis. In Czarnowski et al. (eds.) Proceedings of Intelligent Decision Technologies 2016, Smart Innovation, Systems and Technologies 57. DOI: 10.1007/978-3-319-39627-9_26
  • Wilcockson TD, Mardanbegi D, Xia B, Taylor S, Sawyer P, Gellersen HW, Leroi I, Killick R, Crawford TJ. (2019). Abnormalities of saccadic eye movements in dementia due to Alzheimer’s disease and mild cognitive impairment. Aging (Albany NY), 11(15), 5389. DOI: 10.18632/aging.102118

Meet the experts

Dr Jamie Barker

Dr Jamie Barker

Senior Lecturer in Sport and Exercise Psychology

Dr Glen Blenkinsop

Dr Glen Blenkinsop

Lecturer in Motor Control & Biomechanics of Sport

Kerry Glendon

Kerry Glendon

Doctoral Researcher & Lead Physiotherapist

Andy Harland

Prof Andy Harland

Professor of Sports Technology

Prof Nick Peirce

Prof Nick Peirce

Honorary Clinical Professor in Sport and Exercise Medicine

Dr Clare Stevinson

Senior Lecturer in Behavioural Aspects of Physical Activity and Health

Related research centres