After a single season of youth football, children may display measurable changes in their brains, even without experiencing a concussion, researchers suggest.
“Most investigators believe that concussions are bad for the brain, but what about the hundreds of head impacts during a season of football that don’t lead to a clinically diagnosed concussion? We wanted to see if cumulative sub-concussive head impacts have any effects on the developing brain,” explains Christopher T. Whitlow, MD, PhD, MHA, associate professor and chief of neuroradiology at Wake Forest School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, NC, in a media release from the Radiological Society of North America.
Whitlow is the lead author of a study, published in the journal Radiology, in which he and his team examined data from head impacts among 25 male youth football players between the ages of 8 and 13.
The head impact data was recorded using the Head Impact Telemetry System, which assesses the frequency and severity of helmet impacts. In this study, HITs data were analyzed to determine the risk weighted cumulative exposure associated with a single season of play, according to the release.
During the course of the study, the study participants underwent pre- and post-season evaluation with multimodal neuroimaging, including diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) of the brain. DTI is an advanced MRI technique, which identifies microstructural changes in the brain’s white matter. In addition, all games and practices were video recorded and reviewed to confirm the accuracy of the impacts, the release explains.
DTI produces a measurement, called fractional anisotropy (FA), of the movement of water molecules in the brain and along axons.
According to the results from the data analysis, the researchers note that there was a significant relationship between head impacts and decreased FA in specific white matter tracts and tract terminals, where white and gray matter meet.
“We found that these young players who experienced more cumulative head impact exposure had more changes in brain white matter, specifically decreased FA, in specific parts of the brain,” Whitlow says in the release. “These decreases in FA caught our attention, because similar changes in FA have been reported in the setting of mild TBI.”
The release notes that none of the players had any signs or symptoms of concussion.
“We do not know if there are important functional changes related to these findings, or if these effects will be associated with any negative long-term outcomes,” Whitlow adds.
“Football is a physical sport, and players may have many physical changes after a season of play that completely resolve. These changes in the brain may also simply resolve with little consequence. However, more research is needed to understand the meaning of these changes to the long-term health of our youngest athletes,” he concludes.
[Source(s): Radiological Society of North America, Science Daily]