The high risk and potential side effects of head injuries among scholastic football players as well as professionals has become a popular subject within the media. According to a recent study by Christopher Whitlow, associate professor of radiology at Wake Forest University, presented at Radiology Society of North America event, there may be more underlying causes for cognitive changes in players besides clinical concussion. Most studies examining similar issues among athletes emphasize the effects of clinical concussions. However, this Whitlow’s work focuses on head impacts which may have not been diagnosed by a medical professional as a serious medical concussion.
Researchers equipped a group of 24 athletes with sensors on their helmets which showed how many hits they received to the head as well as the neurological changes caused by the impacts. None of the players were reported to have clinical concussions by the end of the season. However, according to Paul Schultz, the study revealed a disconnect between brain cells which can affect players’ cognitive functions. The study examined the white matter which connects grey matter areas of the brain and promotes healthy cognitive function. Additionally, the movement of water molecules in the brain, called fractional anisotropy (FA), is believed to be responsible for the quality of the brain’s function. As the FA levels decrease, the risk of “micro-structural abnormalities” increases. Whitlow stated,
This study adds to the growing body of evidence that a season of play in a contact sport can affect the brain in the absence of clinical findings.Our study found that players experiencing greater levels of head impacts have more FA loss compared to players with lower impact exposure. Similar brain MRI changes have been previously associated with mild traumatic brain injury. However, it is unclear whether or not these effects will be associated with any negative long-term consequences.”
Because the findings of this study are new, further research is expected to investigate whether the resulting neurological effects are permanent or temporary. However, athletes participating in physical sports, such as football, need to be aware of the potential damage they may be exposed to even in the absence of a medically diagnosed condition.
Red more here – “High School Football Players Show Brain Changes after One Season,” (Christopher Whitlow, Radiology Association of North America)
Anna is a current student at The George Washington University in Washington, DC with a concentration in Marketing and Communication. She specializes in social media outreach and has experience working in government contracting.