Although college football players look like they’re healthy and superbly athletic on the gridiron, a new study conducted by Northwestern Medicine, Pennsylvania State University, and other collaborating universities revealed that collegiate football athletes who have competed in the sport for more than a decade have related abnormalities in inflammation, energy production, and coordination.
The research shows that these abnormalities that are apparent before the football season even begins and throughout the season. Researcher say the abnormalities found in college football players are related to routine repetitive head impacts caused by tackling and blocking.
Most studies on head trauma focus on whether the injury is severe enough to cause a clinical concussion, rather than assessing the routine effect of repeated head trauma that occurs during the football season. The new findings argue that athletes competing in high-impact sports, regardless of whether they have a history of concussion, suffer from chronic health issues.
Researchers found these problems in football players using measures that show abnormal regulation of inflammation, less coordinated movement, and abnormalities in how cells produce energy. Researchers say the three measures are linked to each other before the football season and to substantial changes observed during the rest of the season. The abnormalities were also related to the number of head impacts a player endured over the course of the season.
According to co-senior author Dr. Hans Breiter, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, “These findings support over a decade of reports about the negative effects of repetitive head impacts along with studies of animal brain injury.”
Co-senior author Dr. Semyon Slobounov, professor of neurosurgery at Penn State College of Medicine, added, “This problem affects much of youth and professional impact sports in the U.S., along with training of U.S. military personnel.”
To conduct this study, researchers assessed 23 athletes from a college football teams who had been playing the sport for an average of 11 years. The college athletes participated in a full season of collegiate play. Nine of the athletes in the study experienced one to two concussions in previous seasons. Blood samples were also collected, and the athlete’s coordination was tested before and after the football season. The coordination tests were designed to assess their balance and test their ability to remember a virtual pathway. Head impacts were also recorded at all practices during the season via sensors inside the players’ helmets.
According to lead author Nicole Vike, a postdoctoral fellow at Northwestern, Ultimately, the goal is to develop preventative interventions that minimize abnormal changes in the brain that have been observed in studies of contact sport athletes time and time again… Collectively, we need to use interdisciplinary approaches, like those used here, to better quantify the unseen damage of contact sports.”
To read the full research paper, please click here.
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Our legal team at Scarlett Law Group knows firsthand that traumatic brain injury is common in contact sports like football. According to studies, there is an estimated 250,000 concussions and an average of eight deaths due to head injuries among football players every year. 20% of football players also suffer concussion during a single football season, often more than once.
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