Changes to brain cells measurable after one season of high school football

A single season spent playing contact sports is all it takes for measurable changes to occur inside young athletes’ brains, according to results of a study recently published in the Journal of Neurotrauma.

Researchers from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas outfitted about two dozen varsity high school patients with football helmets capable of recording data related to head impacts, then used MRI and diffusional kurtosis imaging to measure changes in neural cellular structures at various intervals over the course of a regular season, including practices and games.

They found that even when no concussion occurs, the athletes experience neurological changes at the cellular level after just one season.

“Studies like this are important to understand how and where long-term damage might be occurring, so that we can then take the necessary steps to prevent it,” said lead author Elizabeth Davenport, MD, in a university press release.

The findings add to a growing spate of research revealing the neurological dangers associated with repeated head injuries stemming from football and other contact sports.