Researchers Find Brain Imaging Changes in Youth Football Players Over Consecutive Seasons

Jillian Urban, MPH, PhDA study by scientists at Wake Forest School of Medicine and the University of Texas Southwestern and published in the Journal of Neurosurgery: Pediatrics shows that head impacts experienced during football practice are associated with changes in brain imaging of young players over multiple seasons.

“Although we need more studies to fully understand what the measured changes mean, from a public health perspective, it is motivation to further reduce head impact drills used during practice in youth football,” said the study’s corresponding author Jill Urban, PhD, assistant professor of biomedical engineering at the School of Medicine.

The study examined changes in head impact exposure pre- and postseason in a group of 47 athletes who participated in youth football for two or more consecutive years between 2012 and 2017. None of the 47 youth athletes sustained a clinically diagnosed concussion during the study period. A group of 16 youth athletes who participated in noncontact sports, such as swimming, tennis and track, served as the control group.

“We observed variability in the amount and direction of imaging changes in the brain related to the amount of exposure that the players experienced on the field,” Urban said. “If we can take efforts to reduce that exposure on-field, we can potentially mitigate changes in brain imaging.”