Just One Season of High School Football Is Enough to Cause Serious Brain Damage

Football results in more concussions than any other competitive sport; but a concussion diagnosis isn’t the sole measure of brain damage.

Football results in more concussions than any other competitive sport; but a concussion diagnosis isn’t the sole measure of brain damage.

It doesn’t take a 10-year career in the National Football League (NFL) to cause substantial changes in brain cells. In fact, researchers at the University of Texas Southwestern (UT Southwestern) Medical Center discovered that a single season at the high school level is enough to do just that.

“Studies like this are important to understand how and where long-term damage might be occurring, so that we can then take the necessary steps to prevent it,” first author Elizabeth Davenport, PhD, in the Department of Radiology and the Advanced Imaging Research Center, said in a news release.

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A total of 38 football players wore sensory helmets which recorded head impact during practices and games. The researchers measured total impacts, summed acceleration, and Risk Weighted cumulative Exposure (RWE). None of the participants had been clinically diagnosed with a concussion. Pre- and post- season assessments included magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and Immediate Post-Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing (ImPACT) revealed brain health outcomes.

The authors concluded that just one season of high school football is enough to cause brain cell changes noticeable in diffusional kurtosis imaging (DKI) — which measures water diffusion in biological cells. In addition, DKI revealed white matter abnormalities which were apparent in this population, as described in the Journal of Neurotrauma.

“Work of this type, combing biomechanics, imaging, and cognitive evaluation is critical to improving our understand of the effects of subconcussive impacts of the develop brain,” explained senior author Joseph Maldijan, MD, chief of the Neuroradiology Division and Director of the Advanced Neuroscience Imaging Research Lab at UT Southwestern.

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