Purpose: To compare functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) activation patterns during a cognitive task, exercise capacity, and symptoms in postconcussion syndrome (PCS) patients who received exercise treatment (n = 4) with a PCS placebo stretching group (n = 4) and a healthy control group (n = 4).
Methods: Subjects completed a math processing task during fMRI and an exercise treadmill test before (time 1) and after approximately 12 weeks (time 2). Exercise subjects performed aerobic exercise at 80% of the heart rate (HR) attained on the treadmill test, 20 minutes per day with an HR monitor at home, 6 days per week. The program was modified as the HR for symptom exacerbation increased.
Results: At time 1, there was no difference in fMRI activation between the 2 PCS groups but healthy controls had significantly greater activation in the posterior cingulate gyrus, lingual gyrus, and cerebellum versus all PCS subjects (P < .05, corrected for multiple comparisons). At time 2, exercise PCS did not differ from healthy controls whereas placebo stretching PCS had significantly less activity in the cerebellum (P < .05 corrected) and in the anterior cingulate gyrus and thalamus (P < .001, uncorrected) versus healthy controls. At time 2, exercise PCS achieved a significantly greater exercise HR (P < .001) and had fewer symptoms (P < .0004) than placebo stretching PCS. Cognitive performance did not differ by group or time.
Conclusions: Controlled aerobic exercise rehabilitation may help restore normal cerebral blood flow regulation, as indicated by fMRI activation, in PCS patients. The PCS symptoms may be related to abnormal cerebral blood flow regulation.