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New Research Finds Routine Head Injuries Can Cause Brain Injuries

Sports brain injuries continue to make headlines as local youth football and soccer seasons begin winding down for the year and hockey season picks up. Most blog readers know that the head trauma that often occurs in physical sports can lead to significant injuries for players. However, new research reported by the University of Rochester Medical Center today explains that even routine-seemingly non-traumatic-hits could actually cause injury. These brain injuries are a stage below what would be classified as a concussion. The research was originally reported in the journal Magnetic Resonance Imaging and stems from brain scans of high school football and hockey players. A close review of the scans have found that even subtle hits, less than would be caught in any concussion test, have real consequences on players. It is leading some medical experts to research further to better understand the effect that these prolonged hits might have on developing brains.

Researchers used a cutting edge image analysis technique to measure very subtle brain changes before and after players participated in games with head trauma. Specifically, the researchers use diffusion tensor imaging (DTI), which is similar to an MRI except that it captures coded quantitative data instead of images. While measuring that data the researchers found small but clear difference in the effect on the white matter in the brain of the young athletes.

The involved researchers explained that with further honing of the techniques, it may be possible to identify a specific point where there is real long-term effect on the athlete. For example, it may be uncovered that 20 hours of play in a particular game may be a tipping point where brain problems are found. It then maybe appropriate for coaches and others involved to limit the total exposure of athletes to the level of play which is found not to cause harm. These levels may also changes between age groups. The more research and data collected, the more professionals will be able to provide tailored advice to athletes and their families on the specific consequences of their playing certain games. This more personalized approach to brain injury is a particularly novel idea that has a lot of potential.

While the new information that continues to come out regarding the effect of sports head injuries on players should give pause to parents, of course it does not mean that the risk of all of these sports outweigh the benefits. Instead, our Chicago brain injury attorneys believe that this new research should be looked at from a balanced perspective. The fact remains that particularly physical sports have real consequences on the lives of players. The more information that comes out regarding more subtle harm should simply make it even more appropriate for extra steps to be taken by involved parties to keep players safe. In other words, all sports safety measures involve a balance comparing the intrusiveness of the safety steps with the harm that it might prevent. The more information that comes out regarding that actual harm, the more that balancing test should shift in favor of increased safety measures.

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