Less severe hits to the brain resulting from contact sports can cause lasting damage, even if they don’t cause a concussion initially, according to research presented recently at Neuroscience 2017, the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience.

The risks to brain health suggest the need for stricter regulations of equipment and better education to improve safety.

A media release from the Society for Neuroscience explains further findings:

In soccer, “heading” the ball disrupts brain connections called axons to a larger extent in females than in males, a possible explanation for why women experience longer-lasting symptoms.

Sustaining a concussion or simply playing one season of a contact sport temporarily decreases performance on a memory test, possibly because head impacts may affect the ability of the hippocampus to make new neurons.

Many professional football players—and older athletes in particular—disregard safety recommendations when selecting their helmets, a finding that suggests stricter helmet rules are needed to ensure better protection.

Cadets at the US Air Force Academy falsely believe they will be penalized for multiple concussions and thus may deny when one occurs, indicating better education on concussion policy is needed.

“Today’s findings continue to emphasize the dangers of head injuries in sports, as well as reveal specifics on the way particular brain regions are affected,” says Linda Noble, PhD, of the University of Texas at Austin and an expert on brain injuries, in the release.

“Understanding how athletes think about concussion—when choosing their equipment or reporting injury—can help create better policies that will keep them safer.”

[Source(s): Society for Neuroscience, EurekAlert]