It’s not just the big hits in football that cause brain injury. A new concussion study finds it’s also the accumulation of repetitive, routine jolts that cause long-term damage, reports the NCAA.
The University of Rochester study began by using Diffusion Tensor Imaging (DTI) to study the brains of 10 high school football players. Of the 10, one player had suffered a concussion.
Researchers were surprised to find that the scan of the injured player revealed as much damage as those of his teammates who suffered regular levels of contact. The results suggest that routine play can also adversely affect a player’s health.
The findings can also be linked to traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative brain condition found in retired NFL players. Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) is a condition associated with memory problems, behavioural and personality changes, and speech and balance abnormalities. CTE has also been found in the brains of hockey players.
The growing evidence means that a sport like football might one day change at a fundamental level. Rules may be changed, helmet design updated, and player care re-evaluated.
The next phase of the study is moving ahead with funding from the NFL. Ten players on the University of Rochester’s football team have been outfitted with special helmets that measure each hit the player receives. The 10 players will receive a DTI scan at the end of the current season that will be compared to a scan before the season started. The results will help researchers determine if there is a relationship between the number of collisions and the degree of brain injury.
The goal is not to stop people from playing football. But if the study shows that routine contact can adversely affect a player’s health, steps can be taken to protect an athlete’s well-being. A high hit count would alert medical staff that an athlete requires extra attention.
Says Jeff Bazarian, the man behind the study: At the end of the day, I think we’re just trying to avoid dementia from happening down the line. I have three kids. I don’t want them getting hurt and having brain injury from something they love to do.