Millions of children participate in youth sports leagues every year. Unfortunately, high-contact sports, such as football or soccer, can be considerably dangerous due to the nature of the game, regardless of the use of padding and safety equipment.
Football in particular has proven to put players at great risk for concussion and has been the subject of increased studies and media attention due to player injuries made public by the NFL. Now, a brand new study has proven that other potentially dangerous effects can occur as a result of sub-concussive head impact injuries that do not result in concussion diagnosis.
Diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) equipment was used in a study of 25 male youths between the ages of 8 and 13 to take before and after measurements of the white matter area of the brain. This DTI equipment works like a super MRI that can pinpoint very small details in the imaged organ. The images showed a significant decrease in the white matter present in the brain as well as the fractional anisotropy (FA), or the free movement of water molecules in the white matter area.
Images were taken after just one season of youth football, during which none of the study participants had any injuries that resulted in a concussion diagnosis. Those who had higher cumulative head impacts during the season resulted in lower FA measurements in the after images. These results lead us to believe that nonconcussive head impact injuries, when accumulated over time, can become just as dangerous as actual concussions.
While we’re more aware of the dangers of contact sports injuries now than ever before, it is not necessary to say that contact sports should be prohibited just yet. There are ways to reduce the threat of injury, especially in youth leagues, by investing in good quality safety equipment such as helmets, shoulder pads, hip pads, tail pads, knee pads, thigh guards, mouth guards, and athletic supporters. There’s also the possibility of placing contact restrictions on youth leagues to prevent damaging head collisions.
Youth sports has numerous benefits, and is a wonderful activity for all, but there is nothing wrong with being informed and cautious of lasting damage. If your child has been involved with a high-contact sport and sustained any type of head injury, it may be worthwhile to have an MRI performed to determine the severity of the injury. We have four convenient locations throughout Florida in Wellington, Belle Glade, Lake Worth, and Royal Palm Beach. For more information or to schedule an appointment with one of our board-certified, fellowship-trained radiologists, call (561) 795-5558 today.
Do your children play in a high-contact sport? What safety tips do you have for other athlete children’s parents?