Changes Seen in Children's Brains after One Season of Football
As more and more studies link football to brain damage, professional and college organizations are taking steps to limit unnecessary collisions. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for many youth football programs, which are often led by parents that don’t understand the implications of repeated head impacts. If you allow your child to participate in youth football, a new study might make you reconsider.
Measurable Brain Changes
According to researchers at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, youth football players show brain changes even without concussion symptoms.
Appearing in the journal Radiology, the study included 25 subjects between the ages of 8 and 13, all of which were members of a youth football team. Each participant underwent pre- and post-season multimodal neuroimaging, which included diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) of the brain. The researchers also recorded frequency and severity of helmet impacts using the Head Impact Telemetry System (HITs), developed by scientists at Dartmouth College and Virginia Tech. All practices and games were also recorded to help confirm the accuracy of the readings in association with impacts.
Ultimately, the study uncovered a measurable relationship between head impacts and brain changes, with players showing decreased FA in the areas where gray and white matter meet.
Short for fractional anisotropy, FA measures the movement of water in the brain. In a healthy brain, water movement is mostly uniform and produces a high FA measurement. When water movement appears random, FA values drop, which generally points toward brain abnormalities.
What Are the Implications?
Researchers do not know if low FA readings lead to important functional changes, or if the effects point toward negative long-term outcomes. That said, the study did show that young players who experienced more head impacts during youth football also experienced changes in brain white matter.
Without more studies, however, researchers say they cannot predict whether these changes will remain permanent, especially since young brains are still developing.