While there is no way to know whether the changes may lead to health
problems down the road, the researchers found that the degree of
change seen in the brain's white matter tracts was tied to the
amount of exposure a child had to head impacts during play.
"Itís really another study that suggests there are changes in the
brain associated with all of these head impacts," said lead author
Dr. Christopher Whitlow, of the Wake Forest School of Medicine in
Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
He and his colleagues write in the journal Radiology that among U.S.
contact sports, American football has a high rate of traumatic brain
injury. A lot of focus has been placed on examining the role of
brain injuries, such as concussions, on future health problems like
the degenerative brain disease known as chronic traumatic
"If we really want to understand whatís going on at the end of the
line for professional players, we need to be looking at the very
beginning," Whitlow told Reuters Health. "Thatís our youth and high
For the new study, the researchers recruited 25 young football
players between 8 and 13 years old. All participants were boys, and
wore helmets during play with a device to measure hits to the head.
The hits were confirmed by videos.
The boys also had specialized images of their brains taken before
and after the football season. The researchers then analyzed those
images for changes to the brain's white matter, which consists of
bundles of nerve fibers connecting different parts of the brain.
Despite the boys having no symptoms or signs of concussion, the
researchers found changes to the brain's white matter and its
connection points after the season. The number of changes tracked
with how many hits to the head the boys had taken during play.
"More exposure, more changes," Whitlow said. "Less exposure, less
The findings help confirm the results of past studies, said Dr.
Jeffrey Bazarian, a professor of emergency medicine at the
University of Rochester Medical Center in New York.
"We donít know for sure if these changes are bad," said Bazarian,
who was not involved with the new study. "The only way to know this
is if we follow these particular players over time."
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While the lack of data on what these changes mean doesn't provide
parents and coaches with a lot of information, he noted that other
research has found six months of rest may be able to reverse some of
these changes in some people - not all, however.
Young athletes may not want to take part in contact sports year
round, said Bazarian. "Even though this study doesnít specifically
say that, maybe the brain needs a break."
Parents can also help by watching their children practice and play
to see if they're not acting normal after a hit to the head, said
Whitlow. Additionally, it's important to have athletic and
healthcare professionals on the field in order to help players.
Whitlow added that the benefits of sports like football need to be
weighed against the potential risks.
For example, he said sports help young people develop leadership and
teamwork skills. Additionally, there are the overall benefits of
"I think we want to encourage our children to play sports," said
Bazarian said more research on this topic is crucial.
"A study like this really needs long-term follow up," he said.
Additionally, he said, most studies on this subject include only
male participants. Females need to be in the studies to see if their
brains respond differently.
SOURCE: http://bit.ly/2fa0sfk Radiology, online October 24, 2016.
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