A new study shows that the midbrain is the “canary in the coal mine” for brain injury, and 2/3 of the players get injured:
Data collected from 38 University of Rochester football players before and after three consecutive football seasons were analyzed for the study. The players’ brains were scanned in an MRI machine before and after a season of play, and the football helmets they wore throughout the season were equipped with impact sensors that captured all hits above 10g force sustained during practices and games. Race car drivers feel the effects of 6 gs, and car crashes can produce brief forces of more than 100 gs.
The analysis showed a significant decrease in the integrity of the midbrain white matter following just one season of football as compared to the preseason. While only two players suffered clinically diagnosed concussions during the time they were followed in the study, the comparison of the post- and pre-season MRIs showed more than two-thirds of the players experienced a decrease in the structural integrity of their brain.
The research team also found that the amount of white matter damage was correlated with the number of hits to the head players sustained, and that rotational acceleration (when the head twists from side to side or front to back) was linked more strongly and more consistently to changes in white matter integrity than linear acceleration (head-on impact).
“Public perception is that the big hits are the only ones that matter,” said senior study author Brad Mahon, an associate professor of psychology at Carnegie Mellon University and Scientific Director of the Program for Translational Brain Mapping at the University of Rochester. “The big hits are definitely bad, but the public is likely missing what’s causing the long-term damage in players’ brains. It’s not just the concussions. It’s everyday hits, too. And the place to look for the effect of such hits, our study suggests, is the midbrain.”
Our tolerance for amusement that injures seems pretty high (guns are a great example), but why would any parent who has a choice want their kid to play football?