Football season is upon us. Many of us enjoy supporting family members playing Pop Warner and High School Football, and speaking for ourselves, the college and NFL seasons are also enthralling. Over the last two to three years the topic of sports related concussion has become commonplace, and unfortunately the untimely passing of star NFL athletes like Junior Seau have prompted us to re-evaluate the impact of repetitive head injuries on the brain as well as the human psyche.
In 2009 the popular magazine, The New Yorker, shed powerful light on the chronic effects of repetitive concussions in addition to novel findings (at that time) demonstrating the signs of brain cell death similar to Alzheimer’s disease were occurring in former athletes who sustained repetitive head injuries, such as boxers and football players. This awareness has prompted a rapid evolution for concussion screenings on the sidelines, changes in guidelines for returning to play, and great debate in the neurologic community regarding how to handle this sensitive issue.
So at this point most of us know that concussions are bad, and repetitive concussions are even worse. However, what about those less severe head collisions not severe enough to classify as concussion? Well a great article out of the journal Brain Connectivity published yesterday discusses exactly this.
They used functional MRI testing to do this study. Functional MRI’s demonstrate brain activity by tracking blood flow to the associated regions of the brain. In this study, football players who had not sustained concussions were shown to have brain activation and connectivity patterns that were different than non football players, and that these differences in brain connectivity became more accentuated throughout the football season.
Though we still have much to learn about concussion, head injuries less severe than concussion, and the post concussion syndrome, this data is demonstrating even “milder head injuries” as having the potential to change the way our brain functions. We will keep you updated on this issue.
- Abbas K, et al. Alteration of Default Mode Network in High School Football Athletes Due to Repetitive Sub-concussive mTBI – A resting state fMRI study. Brain Connect. 2014 Sep 22. [Epub ahead of print]