A new study has found that a series of smaller, less notable hits on the football field may cause more serious, lasting brain injury than a single, more severe incident. Researchers hope that this breakthrough will lead to additional knowledge on the prevention and treatment of concussions and other brain injuries in high school athletes.
In the study, researchers followed a high school football team for two seasons, outfitting the players with special helmets which measured the number and severity of hits that impact the player's head. They found that each of the players experienced between 200 and a staggering 1,800 hits to the head during each season. This means that in just two seasons of a football career, an athlete could receive upwards of 3,500 hits.
The researchers also used an MRI scanner to measure the players' brain activity while the students took a test measuring memory and thinking skills. Although just six of the 29 total participants suffered concussions, the MRI tests revealed that 17 players showed changes in brain function.
Over time, the researchers found, those brain changes correlated with the number and distribution of the hits suffered by the player. This led them to conclude that a larger magnitude of hits may cause greater harm to the brain than a single injury-producing incident.
At this time, the study seems to have produced more questions than it has answered. For example, researchers do not yet know of the long-term impact of the magnitude of hits suffered on the football field. They plan to continue to track the players who took the most hits, and they are also following members of other sports teams to determine whether they pose a similar risk.
Source: NPR, "Many Hits, Rather Than A Big One, Pose Greatest Concussion Risk," Nancy Shute, Feb. 3, 2012