A new Tulane University study of high school football players found no link between years of play and any decline in neurocognitive function. The results suggest risks of sport-related brain injuries are relatively low, according to Gregory Stewart, MD, lead author of the study. For the study, researchers retrospectively reviewed data obtained between August 1998 and August 2001 on 1,289 New Orleans high school football players. The data included age, years of play, concussion history, and scores on several common neuropsychological tests.

Only 4% of the athletes in the study suffered a sports-related concussion, and the mean age of participants was 15.9 years. The results of the study show that age was positively related to performance on the digit symbol substitutions (DSS) task, but years of football remained significantly associated with DSS after controlling for age. The Tulane University news release notes that there was no association between history of concussion and DSS, despite adding concussion to the model with years of football participation.

In addition, there was no significant association between years of football participation and pure reaction time (PRT).

Stewart states, “The correlation between the number of years of football participation and the performance on the digit symbol substitution test does not support the hypothesis that participation in a collision sport negatively affects neurocognitive function. The implication is that the playing of football is not in and of itself detrimental.”

However, Stewart adds that the research does, “reinforce the need to educate high school and college athletes to better understand the importance of being honest about their (concussion) symptoms so that they can be treated appropriately. Many kids play with symptoms that they don’t necessarily equate with a concussion.”

[Source: Tulane University]