Nav: Home

Brain changes seen in youth football players without concussion

October 24, 2016

OAK BROOK, Ill. - Researchers have found measurable brain changes in children after a single season of playing youth football, even without a concussion diagnosis, according to a new study published online in the journal Radiology.

According to USA Football, there are approximately 3 million young athletes participating in organized tackle football across the country. Numerous reports have emerged in recent years about the possible risks of brain injury while playing youth sports and the effects it may have on developing brains. However, most of the research has looked at changes in the brain as a result of concussion.

"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," said the study's lead author, Christopher T. Whitlow, M.D., Ph.D., M.H.A., associate professor and chief of neuroradiology at Wake Forest School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, N.C.

The research team studied 25 male youth football players between the ages of 8 and 13. Head impact data were recorded using the Head Impact Telemetry System (HITs), which has been used in other studies of high school and collegiate football to assess 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.

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 brain's white matter is composed of millions of nerve fibers called axons that act like communication cables connecting various regions of the brain. Diffusion tensor imaging produces a measurement, called fractional anisotropy (FA), of the movement of water molecules in the brain and along axons. In healthy white matter, the direction of water movement is fairly uniform and measures high in FA. When water movement is more random, FA values decrease, which has been associated with brain abnormalities in some studies.

The results showed a significant relationship between head impacts and decreased FA in specific white matter tracts and tract terminals, where white and gray matters 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," Dr. Whitlow said. "These decreases in FA caught our attention, because similar changes in FA have been reported in the setting of mild TBI."

It is important to note 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," Dr. Whitlow said. "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."
-end-
"Subconcussive Head Impact Exposure and White Matter Tract Changes over a Single Season of Youth Football." Collaborating with Dr. Whitlow were Naeim Bahrami, Ph.D., Dev Sharma, Ph.D., Scott Rosenthal, B.S., Elizabeth M. Davenport, Ph.D., Jillian E. Urban, Ph.D., Benjamin Wagner, B.S., Youngkyoo Jung, Ph.D., Christopher G. Vaughan, Psy.D., Gerard A. Gioia, Ph.D., Joel D. Stitzel, Ph.D., and Joseph A. Maldjian, M.D.

Radiology is edited by Herbert Y. Kressel, M.D., Harvard Medical School, Boston, Mass., and owned and published by the Radiological Society of North America, Inc.

RSNA is an association of more than 54,000 radiologists, radiation oncologists, medical physicists and related scientists promoting excellence in patient care and health care delivery through education, research and technologic innovation. The Society is based in Oak Brook, Ill. (RSNA.org)

For patient-friendly information on MRI of the brain, visit RadiologyInfo.org.

Radiological Society of North America

Related Concussion Articles:

A concussion can cost your job -- especially if you are young and well educated
A seemingly harmless concussion can cause the loss of a job -- especially for patients who are in their thirties and for those with a higher education.
After concussion, biomarkers in the blood may help predict recovery time
A study of high school and college football players suggests that biomarkers in the blood may have potential use in identifying which players are more likely to need a longer recovery time after concussion, according to a study published in the July 3, 2019, online issue of Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.
Concussion is a leading cause of injury for children in recreational sports
In a two-year study of children between ages 5-11 who play recreational sports, more suffered concussions than most any other sports-related injury.
Concussion symptoms reversed by magnetic therapy
Concussion symptoms -- such as loss of balance and ability to walk straight -- can be reversed by a new type of magnetic stimulation
Study paves way for better treatment of lingering concussion symptoms
The results of the study, released in Neuroscience journal, show that significant levels of fatigue and poorer brain function can persist for months, or even years, following concussion.
What makes athletes report or hide concussion symptoms?
Whether or not an NCAA Division I athlete is likely to report concussion symptoms depends on factors including their vested interests, their understanding of health implications, and their team culture and societal influences drawn from narratives of performance circulating in media, according to a study published May 8, 2019 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Steven Corman of Arizona State University, USA, and colleagues.
Kids' concussion recovery like snakes and ladders game
During the first 24 hours, home and leisure activities may be undertaken as long as they are only for five minutes at a time, and stopped if symptoms increase.
New findings on concussion in football's youngest players
New research from Seattle Children's Research Institute and UW Medicine's Sports Health and Safety Institute found concussion rates among football players ages 5-14 were higher than previously reported, with five out of every 100 youth, or 5 percent, sustaining a football-related concussion each season.
New concussion recommendations for kids
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has updated its concussion recommendations to support children and teens engaging in light physical activity and returning to school as they recover.
Concussion associated with suicide risk
Experiencing concussions or mild traumatic brain injury (TBI) was associated with increased risk of suicide in a new analysis but the absolute risk was small because nearly all patients diagnosed with concussion or TBI didn't die by suicide.
More Concussion News and Concussion Current Events

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Rethinking Anger
Anger is universal and complex: it can be quiet, festering, justified, vengeful, and destructive. This hour, TED speakers explore the many sides of anger, why we need it, and who's allowed to feel it. Guests include psychologists Ryan Martin and Russell Kolts, writer Soraya Chemaly, former talk radio host Lisa Fritsch, and business professor Dan Moshavi.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#538 Nobels and Astrophysics
This week we start with this year's physics Nobel Prize awarded to Jim Peebles, Michel Mayor, and Didier Queloz and finish with a discussion of the Nobel Prizes as a way to award and highlight important science. Are they still relevant? When science breakthroughs are built on the backs of hundreds -- and sometimes thousands -- of people's hard work, how do you pick just three to highlight? Join host Rachelle Saunders and astrophysicist, author, and science communicator Ethan Siegel for their chat about astrophysics and Nobel Prizes.