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Brain changes seen after a single season of youth football: Shots

MRI scans before and after a season of football showed the brain's changes in a study of high school students.…

MRI scans before and after a season of football showed the brain’s changes in a study of high school students.

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groveb / Getty Images

MRI scans before and after a season of football showed the brain’s changes in a study of high school students.

Groveb / Getty Images

A single season playing soccer can be all that is required to change a young sports mind.

These are the preliminary research results presented in Chicago this year at the annual meeting of North America’s radiological society.

Researchers used special MRI methods to look at brain nerve bumps in a study of the brains of 26 young male football players, mean age 12 before and after a season. Twenty-five six young men who did not play football also received MRI scans while being used as a control group.

In the youth who played football, researchers found that the nerve fibers in their corpus callosum band connecting the two halves of the brain changed during the season, says lead student writer Jeongchul Kim, a research assistant in radiology information and Imaging Laboratory at the Wake Forest School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, NC

“We applied two different mapping methods,” he says. An analysis of the nerve fibers and the other focused on the integrity of the nerves.

Kim says the researchers found that some nerves blocked longer and other bundles became shorter or contracted after the player’s first MRI scan at the beginning of the season. He says they did not see any changes in the integrity of the bundle.

The team says that these results indicate that repeated strokes to the head can lead to changes in the form of corpus callosum, which is crucial for integrating cognitive, motor and sensory functioning between the brain’s two hemispheres during a critical time for brain development in young people.

The researchers say their ultimate goal is to help inform guidelines for safer football games for young people.

A series of MRI images show signs of stress in the nerve fibers after a season of football.

Courtesy of the Wake Forest School of Medicine

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Courtesy of Wake Forest School of Medicine

A series of MRI images shows signs of stress in the nerve fibers after a season of soccer.

Courtesy of Wake Forest School of Medicine

Since the discovery of degenerative brain disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy in the early 2000s, most of the research on the consequences of repeated head injury during sports has been in adult athletes. This focus has arisen despite growing concern that young athletes who experience the same kind of collisions can also be vulnerable to their effects.

Radiologist Christopher Whitlow, co-author of the new findings, says while the stories about NFL and collegial players are very important, they must put in context.

“You must understand that the NFL players are probably once collegial players, they were also high school and they were probably youth players,” he says. “For us, it’s more than a matter of concussion, it’s a matter of long-term cumulative exposure. “

As said, Whitlow and Kim warned to make their findings more than they are: preliminary results from a single study with a relatively small number of participants.

” We do not know what means “, says Whitlow.” The natural next question is, are these changes continuing over time? Are they collecting with several seasons? And since No. 3, probably the most important: Do they have any significance for long-term health? “

The results, presented at a medical meeting, have not been published in a peer-reviewed journal. Whitlow says the team is working on a paper to be sent to a magazine.

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