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Is Football Dangerous? Study Warns Head Injuries from One Football Season Can Alter Normal Brain Functions

Nov 29, 2016 11:08 PM EST
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High school football players with more severe head impact exposure had the greatest change in diffusion imaging and MEG metrics.
(Photo : Matthew Lewis / Stringer)

Is your kid into football? This new study might change your mind next time he/she asks permission.  

Brain imaging exams of high school football players displayed changes in their brain tissue connected to head trauma they sustained after playing for just one season, a new study recently presented at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA) last November 28 says.

"It's important to understand the potential changes occurring in the brain related to youth contact sports. We know that some professional football players suffer from a serious condition called chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE. We are attempting to find out when and how that process starts, so that we can keep sports a healthy activity for millions of children and adolescents," Elizabeth Moody Davenport, Ph.D., a postdoctoral researcher at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, Texas, who led this analysis, told Forbes.

24 players from a high school football team in North Carolina participated in the study. All of the players wore a helmet outfitted with the Head Impact Telemetry System (HITS) during all practices and games. According to the study, these football helmets come with six accelerometers, or sensors, that measure the magnitude, location, and direction of a hit. Data from the helmets are then uploaded to a computer for analysis.

All players went through a series of pre- and post-season imaging: a specialized MRI scan, from which diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) and diffusion kurtosis imaging (DKI) data were extracted to measure the brain's white matter integrity, and a magnetoencephalography (MEG) scan, which records and analyzes the magnetic fields produced by brain waves.

Results show that players with more severe head impact exposure had the greatest change in diffusion imaging and MEG metrics. The study also noted that MEG changes correlated most to rotational impact, similar to a boxer's punch, Eureka Alert reports.

However, in an article by Medical Xpress, according to Dr. Davenport, without a larger population that is closely followed in a longitudinal study, it is difficult to know the long-term effects of these changes. "We don't know if the brain's developmental trajectory is altered, or if the off-season time allows for the brain to return to normal," she said. 

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