Just one season of playing football—even without a concussion—can cause brain damage

Science | AAAS | 8/7/2019 | Staff
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The familiar thudding soundtrack of football means nothing more to many fans than a well-executed game. But for neuroscience researchers, those sounds can signal something much darker: brain damage. Now, a new study shows playing just one season of college football can harm a player’s brain, even if they don’t receive a concussion.

Doctors and players should take note of the findings, says Stephen Casper, a medical historian at Clarkson University in Potsdam, New York, who studies concussions but was not involved with the work. “It just adds to the mountains of evidence that people should be given very clear and transparent warnings about playing football.”

Clinicians - Concussion - Speech - Coordination - Examination

Only clinicians can diagnose a concussion. They typically check for slurred speech and impaired coordination, and they conduct a physical examination for symptoms such as dilated or uneven pupils. Injuries that fall short of concussions are often overlooked, but if they happen frequently, they could be just as damaging to the brain.

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In the new study, researchers at the University of Rochester (U of R) in New York followed 38 of the school’s football players. The athletes wore helmets outfitted with accelerometers to track the number and force of hits during practices and games. Before and after each season, the scientists took MRI scans of the players’ brains. The researchers looked specifically at the midbrain, a region on the brain stem that governs primitive, thoughtless functions such as hearing and temperature regulation. When a player’s head is hit from any angle, the brain ripples like the surface of a pond after a...
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