Mild Blows to Head Affect Brain
Even if an athlete does not experience a concussion, blows to the head experienced while participating in a sport may still negatively affect the brain. That is the conclusion of a study reported by Huffpost Healthy Living that showed differences in white matter between college athletes who participated in contact sports, such as football, and college athletes who participated in non-contact sports, such as track.
Researcher Thomas W. McAllister, M.D., of the Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis, said in a statement, "the degree of white matter change in the contact sport athletes was greater in those who performed more poorly than expected on tests of memory and learning, suggesting a possible link in some athletes between how hard and how often they are hit, white matter changes, and cognition, or memory and thinking abilities.”
For the study, published in the journal Neurology, McAllister examined 80 varsity football and hockey players at Dartmouth College who were concussion-free, as well as 79 track, crew, and Nordic skiing athletes. The contact sport athletes wore helmets so that researchers could keep track of the acceleration time of the head after the athletes experienced a blow. All of the study participants also took tests on verbal learning and memory at the end of the sports season.
Some players in both the contact and the no-contact sports did worse than the researchers expected on the tests. Twenty percent of the contact sports athletes and 11% of the non-contact sports athletes had changes in the corpus callosum—a brain region made up of nerves that connect the brain’s left side with its right side. A study published in the journal Brain showed that people who endure repetitive hits to the head—whether it be through sports or combat—often have a unique brain damage pattern, which progresses from focus problems to aggression and dementia.