Football Changes Brains of Young Players After One Season

A new study in the journal Radiology stated that football changes brains of youth players ages eight to thirteen, specifically in the brain’s white matter, after one season, Reuters reported. The brain’s white matter is made up of axons that project from the nerve cell bodies. The axons in the white matter connect the various areas of nerve cell bodies, known as the gray matter. So the white matter is what is connecting different areas and fostering communication between those areas.

Football Changes Brains

The brains of players ages eight to thirteen show changes after one season. There also is some evidence that periods of rest may be beneficial to these young athletes.

And white matter is what is seeing the changes after one season of football in these young players, which is consistent with previous research. The long term effects of these changes in white matter after one season is not known. It would require a longitudinal study. The doctors simply recommend if the child is not acting normal after a hit, remove him from play.

What was very interesting is that these children that they studied did not have concussions. The contact they experienced were regular game hits that did not result in traumatic brain injury, but their brains were still affected. This may contribute to the discussion being had in the brain injury realm about the disease that stems from repeated impacts: chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE.

Another interesting point is that only male brains were studied. Future studies may want to include female brains to see if the results are the same for young female athletes.

The study had recruited 25 young male football players to participate in the study. They measured the hits with software on their helmets, and confirmed the hits with video. They had imaging done of their brains both before and after the season. The extent of the white matter changes depended on the exposure to hits. More hits led to more changes in white matter. Less hits led to less white matter changes.

Other studies have shown that six months of rest can reverse some of the brain changes in some people not all, Dr. Christopher Whitlow, of the Wake Forest School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, told Reuters.

The work was supported by a grant from the National Institutes of Health.

“This work provides a better understanding of the effects of subconcussive head impacts on the brain of youth football players (age range, 8–13 years),” according to the study. Again, more long term study would be beneficial, and would shed light on what the long term impact of these changes are.


Gordon Johnson

Attorney Gordon Johnson is one of the nations leading brain injury advocates. He is Past-Chair of the TBILG, a national group of more than 150 brain injury advocates. He has spoken at numerous brain injury seminars and is the author of some of the most read brain injury web pages on the internet.

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