Football players at risk for undetected head injuries

November 1, 2010

Athletes, especially the more than 1 million young males who play high school football each year, may develop long-term, serious neurologic problems if they suffer undetected head trauma and continue to play the sport.

Athletes, especially the more than 1 million young males who play high school football each year, may develop long-term, serious neurologic problems if they suffer undetected head trauma and continue to play the sport. According to study results published in the October issue of the Journal of Neurotrauma, this type of undetected trauma warrants greater attention and dedication to developing a system to identify athletes who suffer nonsymptomatic and undiagnosed concussions.

In the study, led by researchers at Purdue University, 21 high school football players were equipped with helmets that contained electronic sensors. The players were assessed before the start of the season and during the season using data from the helmets, scores from neurocognitive testing, and observation of neurophysiologic signal changes through functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).

Eleven players were diagnosed with a concussion, involved in a greater than normal number of head collisions, or involved in an extremely hard collision. Among these athletes, 4 who had no symptoms of concussion (and were not diagnosed with concussion) did suffer functional impairment. Of the remaining 7 players, 3 were diagnosed with concussion and 4 had no concussion or changes in brain function. Of those who had no symptoms but showed changes, the impairment was demonstrated by both the neurocognitive and fMRI testing to be at least equal to that of the players diagnosed with a concussion.