Mar 12, 2024
Research shows effects of head impacts on the brain

Dalhousie University neuroscience researchers are investigating how head impacts lead to injuries in football players.

Preliminary findings show that the intensity of a single hit doesn’t have as much of an impact as the accumulation of hits throughout practice and/or games, according to Alon Friedman, a lead researcher in the investigation.

Ahead impacts recent story from Yahoo! Sports detailed the study from Dalhousie University. Below is an excerpt from the Yahoo! Sports story.

“It’s not necessary that we have to treat a concussion itself,” Friedman said. “The concussion is an outcome of many, many small injuries that you had throughout the season and you didn’t even feel about them.”

Their findings lend support to the idea that head impacts can cause dysfunction in the blood-brain barrier, which helps shield the brain from salts, proteins and toxins in the blood. When it’s impacted, leakage can occur, causing changes in the brain function and structure, which can result in cognitive decline or emotional and movement problems.

Friedman said the effects of the leakage depend on what part of a player’s head is impacted since the brain has various networks of nerve cells that control things like behavior, mood, and movement.

One of Friedman’s co-authors is Casey Jones, a former Dalhousie Tiger football player and coach, and the current resident physician in the university’s department of emergency medicine.

“My goals as a past athlete and coach and someone who’s been really involved with football my whole life is, ‘how can we make our game safer?'” Jones said. “What are aspects of our game that we can, you know, reduce impacts to the head?”

Previous research on deceased athletes with a history of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a brain disorder caused by repeated head trauma, has found evidence of changes in the blood-brain barrier, Jones said.

“Not everyone after a concussion will have problems in the future, actually most people, most individuals after concussion will heal and will be fine,” Friedman said.

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But in some cases, people are susceptible mild head injuries, he said, and it’s important to identify those who are at risk and who could develop complications in the future, Friedman said.

Their study, which was led by researchers at Dalhousie and published in January in the Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine, involved 60 football players. Eight had suffered a clinically diagnosed concussion, and five of them underwent an assessment to gauge leakage in the blood-brain barrier.

To read the full story from Yahoo! Sports, click here. 

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