Young Football Players Exposed to Head Impact Show Brain Changes A single season of youth football can alter players’ brain structures, even without a diagnosable concussion, according to new research. Although most research surrounding youth sports has focused on concussions, Christopher T. Whitlow of Wake Forest School of Medicine and his team studied what happens to the brains of child ... Research in Brief
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Research in Brief  |   February 01, 2017
Young Football Players Exposed to Head Impact Show Brain Changes
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Attention, Memory & Executive Functions / Traumatic Brain Injury / Research in Brief
Research in Brief   |   February 01, 2017
Young Football Players Exposed to Head Impact Show Brain Changes
The ASHA Leader, February 2017, Vol. 22, 14. doi:10.1044/leader.RIB1.22022017.14
The ASHA Leader, February 2017, Vol. 22, 14. doi:10.1044/leader.RIB1.22022017.14
Although most research surrounding youth sports has focused on concussions, Christopher T. Whitlow of Wake Forest School of Medicine and his team studied what happens to the brains of child athletes who were exposed to head impact but showed no signs or symptoms of a concussion.
“We found that these young players who experienced more cumulative head impact exposure had more changes in brain white matter,” says Whitlow, chief of neuroradiology at Wake Forest. The article appears in the journal Radiology.
The researchers studied 25 male football players ages 8–13, recording head impact data with the Head Impact Telemetry System (HITs). Participants were also evaluated before and after the season with multimodal neuroimaging, including diffusion tensor imaging (DTI), which can identify small changes in white matter.

“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.”

DTI produces a measurement, fractional anisotropy (FA), that corresponds to the health of white matter. The higher the FA, the healthier. The researchers found a potential relationship between head impacts and decreased FA in some areas. Similar FA changes have been reported in cases of mild TBI, Whitlow says.
“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,” Whitlow says. “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.”
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February 2017
Volume 22, Issue 2