Contact Sports May Cause Brian Injury Even Without Concussions: New Research

by John McKiggan

Public Awareness

The past few years has seen a huge increase in public awareness regarding the dangers of concussions and how they are related to contact sports like hockey and football.

The turning point, I believe, was during the 2010-2011 NHL season when Sydney Crosby suffered a concussion as a result of hits to his head in two consecutive games. The injury put him on the disabled list for ten and a half months. However the symptoms returned the following season.

I have written about Crosby’s challenges and how they have helped to raise public awareness of the dangers of concussions.

Concussions and Traumatic Brain Injuries in Sport

Hockey Players Losing More Time Due To Concussions – Nova Scotia Brain Injury Claims

There has also been a great deal of media coverage surrounding the issue of chronic traumatic encephalophy and the litigation filed by current and former national football league players for brain injuries they allege to have suffered as a result of repeated concussions during their football careers: NFL Brain Injury Lawsuit Raises Public Awareness of Dangers of Concussion

What Causes Concussions?

A concussion is a essentially an injury to the brain caused by trauma. The effects of concussion can be minor and the effects may last only minutes or, as in the case of Sydney Crosby, the effects can be significant and long lasting.

What many people don’t realize is that you can suffer a concussion even if you haven’t suffered a blow to the head. In fact this is one of the eight common myths of brain injury. You can read more about it in my article: myth #3- you have to hit your head to suffer a brain injury.

New Research Raises Further Concerns

Athletes can suffer brain injury even if they haven’t suffered a concussion!

A report presented at the Radiological Society of North America showed the some high school football players had measureable changes to their brain after one season of playing even though the players had not suffered a concussion!!

One of the authors of the research, Christopher Witlow stated: “…this study adds to the growing body of evidence that a season of playing in a contact sport can affect the brain in the absence of clinical findings.”

No concussions…but still had changes in brain tissue

The study followed 24 high school football players who were monitored with head impact telementry systems in their helmets which was used to assess the frequency and severity of helmet impacts. None of the players followed suffered a concussion during the football season. However, a comparison of pre-season and post season MRI examinations showed increased evidence of fractional anisotropy, a measure of potential brain abnormality.

Witlow stated “…similar brain MRI changes have been previously associated with mild traumatic brain injury. However, it is unclear whether or not these effects will be associated with any negative long term consequences.”

Further research needed

This is obviously one study of a very limited number of participants. The authors of the report clearly point out that they don’t know what, if any, long term consequences there will be as a result of the changes identified in the study.

However, it does show that further research needs to be conducted.

Parents who enroll their children in contact sports like football, hockey and rugby need to be aware that even if their child doesn’t suffer a concussion the repeated impacts may have potential lasting consequences.

Want more information?

I wrote Brain Matter: The Survivor’s Guide to Brain Injury Claims to answer the most common questions I am asked about brain injury claims and to help educate brain injury survivors about their legal rights.

If you would like a copy of Brain Matter you can buy a copy on Amazon (all proceeds go to charity) or you can download a copy here.

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