New Concussion Study on High School Players’ Brains Shows Changes in White Matter after One Season
By Richard H. Adler, Arthur D. Leritz
January 5, 2015
A recent study established what many have suspected for some time –namely, that repetitive hits to the head in athletes can cause cellular changes to the brain, even in the absence of a diagnosed concussion. The study involved 24 high school football players aged 16-18. These players were equipped with the Head Impact Telemetry System (HITS) for all practices and games. HITS was first developed by equipment manufacturer Riddell in 2003. Since that time, HITS has analyzed more than 1.3 million impacts.
Prior to the first practice of the season, each player in the study group received an MRI of the brain, including Diffusion Tensor Imaging (DTI), to measure fractional anisotropy (FA). FA can be a useful measure of connectivity in the brain and visible decreases in FA as seen on DTI have been associated with traumatic brain injury. The data collected during the study enabled the researchers to further separate the study group: one group consisted of players who regularly received hard hits (9) and the other group included those players who received light hits (15). Immediate Post-Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing (ImPACT, a computerized concussion evaluation system) was also conducted throughout the season.
After the season, the players again underwent MRIs with Diffusion Tensor Imaging and the imaging results were compared to the pre-season MRIs with DTI. The post-season imaging revealed that there was a widely distributed and statistically significant decrease in FA, especially when comparing the heavy hitters to the light hitters. The areas of the brain affected included the splenium of the corpus callosum and the deep white matter tracts. The clinical and potential long-term significance of the changes to the cells of the teenager’s brain remains to be seen and further study in required. However, the researchers did find a strong correlation between DTI measures and changes in the verbal memory subscore of the ImPACT.
We have the privilege to represent many individuals and their families following a traumatic brain injury (TBI). There is a far greater incidence of TBIs occurring from motor vehicles injuring occupants of cars, pedestrians, and bicyclists than TBIs from sport-related concussions. However, the recent and growing interest in brain injury research can be tied to the concern for player safety in all contact sports, particularly boy’s football, ranging from youth athletes to elite professionals. The research study discussed above is one example of many that is ongoing and tied to the increased awareness and concern about preventing preventable brain injuries in youth athletes.
The attorneys at Adler Giersch remain a strong voice and advocate for those with traumatic brain injuries. We are dedicated to staying focused on developments in research, treatments, and advocacy approaches for those with traumatic brain injuries caused by the fault of another. The attorneys at Adler Giersch know what it takes to prove these injuries to insurers during negotiations and to judges and juries in a courtroom. We are ready to assist when the need arises. Simply give us a call.