The start of a new school year also brings after-school sports programs. Late summer and fall is prime football season for many middle and high schools. In some states, it’s a hallowed tradition that boys and girls look forward to participating in whether it’s running down the field or cheering on the team.
While school football doesn’t typically offer the same ferocious body beating and brain –rattling that are seen in the National Football League (NFL), a new study shows that brain development can still be affected by playing football at a young age.
The study looked at the possible connection between a greater risk of altered brain development in NFL players who started playing football before the age of twelve as opposed to those players who began playing later in life. The study is the first to show a link between early repetitive head trauma and future structural brain variations.
The study was small but interesting. It included a review of 40 former NFL players between the ages of 40 and 65 who played over 12 years of structured football with a minimum of 2 years at the NFL level.
One half of the players took up football prior to the age of 12 and half started at age 12 or later. The number of concussions suffered was very similar between the two groups. All of these players had a minimum of six months of memory and cognitive issues.
"To examine brain development in these players, we used an advanced technique called diffusor tensor imaging (DTI), a type of magnetic resonance imaging that specifically looks at the movement of water molecules along white matter tracts, which are the super-highways within the brain for relaying commands and information," study author Dr. Inga Koerte, professor of neurobiological research at the University of Munich and visiting professor at Harvard University, said in a press release.
The researches believe their findings add to the growing amount of scientific evidence that shows the brain may be especially vulnerable to injury between the ages of 10 and 12.
"Therefore, this development process may be disrupted by repeated head impacts in childhood possibly leading to lasting changes in brain structure," said study author Julie Stamm, currently a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health.
Despite finding a link to the brain development window where kids are more likely to suffer brain injury by repeated head impacts, the small size of the study means the results may not necessarily apply to non-professionals.
"The results of this study do not confirm a cause and effect relationship, only that there is an association between younger age of first exposure to tackle football and abnormal brain imaging patterns later in life," said study author Martha Shenton, a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.
Because of the intense publicity about and the findings of many studies on the short and long-term dangers of concussions, many school sports programs are looking at changing how they allow students to play in games associated with head injuries. Where it was once common for coaches to let players continue playing after a particularly rough tackle or head butting, they are more likely now to insist that a field medical professional examine the child. Some schools are also implementing no tackle policies to protect very young players.
While traditional football isn’t likely to become extinct, parents and coaches can educate themselves about brain injuries and learn how to best protect young players from the chances of long and short-term disabilities.
Source: Brett Smith, http://www.redorbit.com/news/health/1113407634/pre-teen-football-linked-to-more-severe-brain-changes-in-nfl-players-081115/