Is Football Hurting Your Child’s Brain Development?

African American boy playing footballJust one season of competitive football may cause changes in some young players’ developing brains, even if they don’t get a concussion during play, a small study found.

Using imaging scans, researchers spotted “microstructural” changes in the white brain matter of 25 male athletes aged 8 to 13 after a season of football.

They also found that players experienced more significant brain changes if they took a greater number of hits and stronger hits to the head, said lead researcher Dr. Christopher Whitlow. He’s chief of neuroradiology at Wake Forest School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, N.C.

“We’re seeing some associations between the amount of change in the brain and the amount of exposure to head impacts,” Whitlow said. “The more exposure they’ve had, the more change you see.”

However, Whitlow was quick to add that these changes are imperceptible to the naked eye, and future research might prove these changes harmless.

“Football is a very physical sport, so there are lots of changes in the body after a season of football,” he said. “Players have cuts and bruises, and after the season these go away. Perhaps the change we’re seeing is just another one of those physical manifestations of playing a season of football that will just go away.”