A recent study from the Wake Forest School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, North Carolina discovered that even after just one season of competitive football changes could be found in kids’ brains. This shift can occur even if they aren’t concussed during the season. The research team, led by Dr. Christopher Whitlow, used imaging scans to spot the changes in 25 male athletes from ages eight to thirteen.
Concussions or minor head trauma is the most common type of traumatic brain injury. A temporary loss of brain function occurs after the injury and symptoms can include physical, cognitive, and emotional. Headaches, brain fogginess, and emotional changeability also come with a concussion. Concussions can be caused by sports injuries, bicycle or car accidents, and falls. Treating a concussion involves observation for several hours, rest, avoiding physically demanding activities, and taking proper medication are among some of the ways to deal with a concussion, depending on the age and physical health.
Dr. Whitlow and his team spotted micro changes in the white brain matter of the children, according to News 9. More significant changes are experienced if the player took more and stronger hits to the head. “The more exposure they’ve had, the more change you see,” said Dr. Whitlow. Further research is needed to understand what the significant impact is of these changes. The brains of young athletes are still rapidly developing and even with hits that don’t end with a concussion may still add up over time.
The 25 participants in the study had an MRI scan on their brains before and after the season. Their helmets were fitted with sensors to measure the severity of hits to the head during the game. Also, the researchers reviewed recordings to “verify that the sensors had accurately recorded each hit,” according to News 9. None of the participants in the study suffered a concussion during the season. The researchers then compared both scans to find any changes in the players’ brains and comparing the data from each player they looked for any connections.
In the NFL, research from player concussions suggests that the effects and symptoms aren’t rapid. According to TIME, the concussions can “continue years after the trauma,” with the damage accumulating over time. Even with hits that aren’t severe enough to cause a concussion.
The results of the brain study were recently published in Radiology. Other researchers are applauding the results but needed a bigger data pool to have conclusive data. Whitlow’s team will continue to track some of the participants in the study. Hopefully, in time, the team will be able to answer some of the most pressing questions, including the long-term consequences of a concussion.
By Cheryl Werber
Photo Courtesy NBC