If you’ve been watching the news or reading the paper this year, you have probably seen quite a bit of media coverage on the risks of concussions in professional and youth athletes. It is a known fact that head-on collisions, such as those that occur in contact sports like soccer and football, can lead to concussions. When repeated, they can then lead to TBI (traumatic brain injury).

A recent study emerged in October from the Wake Forest School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, North Carolina that delves into the effects that sub-concussive head injuries have on the brain after just one season of youth football. The study began by taking pre-season neuroimaging using an advanced MRI technique called diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) to measure the amount of white matter in the brain. Post-season DTI imaging was done as well.

None of the study participants had any signs or symptoms of concussion throughout the season. Still, a comparison study between pre- and post-season images showed a prominent decrease in the amount of white matter after just one season of youth football. White matter is made up of millions of nerve fibers that connect your brain and spinal cord, sending signals to the rest of your nervous system from the control center. It is also responsible for helping you to stay balanced and think fast. The only thing protecting this extremely important part of the brain is a thin layer of fatty substance called myelin.

The results of this study support the claim that concussive head injuries are not the only injuries to be concerned about, but that cumulative sub-concussive head injuries may have a similar impact on the brain. It is important to note that there is currently no evidence as to whether these results are long-lasting or if they will heal permanently, resolving on their own.

It’s important to be able to recognize the signs of a possible concussion when you or someone you know participates in a contact sport. The most obvious signs will be confusion or memory loss, loss of consciousness, dizziness, nausea, or hypersensitivity to light and sound. Some less obvious signs are constant drowsiness or a lasting headache. Seeing board-certified orthopedic and sports medicine expert Dr. James Talkington for a concussion evaluation and appropriate cognitive testing at the first sign of injury is critical to our ability to diagnose and find the best treatment for each unique case.

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