Brain Changes in Football Even Without Concussion
Written by Editor   
Wednesday, December 10, 2014 01:12 PM

High school football players showed significant changes in brain structures after one season of practice and games, even though they have not suffered clinical concussions, researchers reported.  "Our imaging study found that increased cumulative impact exposure over the course of a high school football season -- even when there is no evidence of concussion -- is associated with white matter changes in the brain. … it is unclear whether or not these effects will be associated with any negative long-term consequences."

But his group noted that more head impacts were experienced in practice rather than in actual games.  Use of diffuse tensor imaging detected statistically significant areas of decreased fractional anisotropy in the splenium of the corpus callosum and deep white matter traces in the players who were classified as "heavy hitters."

His group fitted 40 members of a high school football team with special helmets that recorded impacts. The sensors recording the hits were embedded within the lining of the helmets. They performed baseline MRI studies on all the players, and then recorded the head knocks using a telemetry system. They videotaped the games and practices to ensure that the head knocks recorded by the system reflected actual game-related impacts, and not just a helmet being dropped or thrown to the ground.

"Our study found that players experiencing greater levels of head impacts have more fractional anisotropy compared to players with lower impact exposure," he said. "Similar brain magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) changes have been previously associated with mild traumatic brain injury.”  The study did not include a control group so it was not known if similar changes might be seen in any other teenager as part of normal growth and development.

Authors speculated that the finding with the helmet telemetry may be useful in determining if a player should be taken out because of an accumulation of hard hits. "That might become the new norm," he said, rather than focusing on clinical concussion.