Under the Hood

How A Single Football Season Could Damage A Player's Brain

As one of the country’s biggest sports at the moment, football is well-loved across the country by all ages, whether it’s college students trying out for the team or Dads who cheer for their home state no matter what. As a high-contact sport, football requires resilience and a tough body since it employs rough play from time to time, and one can easily get trampled on if they’re not paying attention.

As a result, football accidents happen frequently, with mild to severe concussions being one of the most common reasons for a player to sit out a season. However, a new study revealed that football players don’t even need a concussion to damage their brains since the constant head hits can be strong enough to leave their mark on your grey matter, which can lead to abnormal brain tissue.

Published in Science Advances last August 7, the researchers reported that while concussions are the main culprits for long-lasting brain damage, the continuous minor hits could also spell some trouble. Still, it’s still unclear whether these changes in our brain stems caused by the knocks could affect our mental performance or even if they’re permanent in the first place.

To gather data for the research, a team of scientists recruited players from the 2011, 2012 and 2013 football seasons. These participants were then made to wear accelerometers that subsequently captured the amount of forces that were at play during a single season, including all practices and actual games. The researchers then used fractional anisotrophy to estimate how well neural signals are carried by long stretches of white matter brain tissue. Additionally, the participants also underwent pre- and post-season brain scans.

Per the results, all the players collectively took 19,128 hits by the end of a single season. Not only that, but it resulted in lower measures of fractional anisotropy in their right midbrains on average. Interestingly however, the declines were more associated with twisting hits rather than direct head-on hits.

As per the scientists, the gravitational forces that come with hitting your head while spinning or turning a direction may contribute to brain tissue damage. However, more research is required.

football In the past, the NFL openly acknowledged a link between football and CTE. Photo courtesy of Pixabay