Amid increased concerns for health safety in football, primarily involving concussion and its long-term effects, scientists decided to study the impact of normal football play on young players.
The results were eye-opening.
Dr. Christopher Whitlow at the Wake Forest School of Medicine studied 25 male football players ages 8-13 for one season for his research. They wore helmets with sensors to track head impact and went through two MRI scans, before and after the season.
Whitlow found that each head impact, even if it doesn’t cause to a concussion, leads to "changes in the brain’s white matter," the tissue responsible for coordinating communication between different parts of the brain.
Although it’s not yet known if the “changes” cited in the study are necessarily damaging, they could affect young players in the long run since the white matter is still developing during that age.
"Football is a physical sport, and players may have many physical changes after a season of play that completely resolve," Whitlow said. "However, more research is needed to understand the meaning of these changes to the long-term health of our youngest athletes."
The research comes nearly seven months after the National Football League, after years of avoiding the issues, finally admitted the link between football chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative disease discovered in the brains of several former professional athletes.
In September, the League also pledged $100 million to help concussion-related research initiatives.
Whitlow’s study was published Oct. 24 in the journal Radiology.