Even without concussions, hits still caused changes in white matter
High school football players who’ve never suffered a concussion can still have brain changes, says a small study.
The study, which looked at 45 members of a 2012 varsity team, scanned players’ brains before and after the season. Throughout the season, each player wore a helmet fitted with a device that captured real-time linear and rotational accelerations that can then be used to figure out what forces have been applied to the head.
“During the season, we captured every single hit. Every practice, every game,” says study author Alexander Powers, M.D., an assistant professor of neurosurgery, pediatrics and orthopedics at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center.
None of the players suffered a concussion during the study period, but the more total hits a player received to the head, the more changes measured in the white matter of his brain.
The study didn’t show cause and effect, whether the brain changes are temporary or permanent, or how the changes might affect players’ lives, but “the fact that we do have this abnormality in the white matter that correlates so well with the amount of hits that kids had is really striking,” Dr. Powers says.
Experts suggest limiting the number of hits is key to minimizing the threat to young football players. “The majority of exposure for most of the kids is during practice,” Dr. Powers says. “The low-hanging fruit is limiting practice, limiting hitting in practice, limiting drills.”
Though the study was small, it could have significant implications on the concussion discussion currently taking place in the National Football League.