Cumulative number of impacts to the heads of amateur football players are dangerous for their mental health in the future.
Repeated football hits can take a toll on young heads, according to a new study. Researchers from Boston University have found that the more blows a young player takes on his head, the more likely he will face problems like depression, apathy, cognitive impairment and memory loss in later years.
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The study, published in Journal of Neurotrauma, is the first of its kind intended to find the connection between the exposure of football hits on head during high school and college football and their cumulative impact on the mental health of players through college, their professional career and after their retirement.
The consequences of repeated hits appear greater than concussion or temporary unconsciousness which has been a subject of great debate and discussion for a long time. These ‘subconcessive’ blows are worrisome since these kinds of blows are impossible to avoid during the game.
“There has been a tremendous amount of growth in the last several years in the prevention, detection and management of symptomatic concussions across all levels of play and all sports. That’s fantastic,” said Robert Stern, a professor of neurology at Boston University. “The problem is that the focus on concussion has taken away from an appropriate discussion about the more common subconcussive trauma.”
For the study, researchers involved 93 men who played football in high school or college level ages 24 to 82. To estimate the total exposure to repetitive head impacts or what they formally call Cumulative Head Impact Exposure Index (CHII), researchers taken into account number of seasons they played, positions played and the level of play.
The mean number of total impacts was 7,742. When broken down, you may found that a college linebacker can have 685 impacts per season while a college quarterback closer to 200. Nevertheless, the greater the overall numbers in a career, the higher the chances of problems such as cognitive decline, mood and behavioral impairment later in life.
“We need to take very seriously the notion that hitting your head over and over again may have long term consequences.” Stern said.
Though researchers acknowledge that the study has its limitations since it involves a relatively small scale sample and head impacts are not studied in a real time still the number hits found in the study could serve as a threshold to evaluate the risk for individual athlete.
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“We think it’s really important to understand what’s going on in people who play just through high school or just through college and not only focus on the very small number of people who go on to play in the pros,” said Stern. “That’s not interesting to me. What’s more interesting is something that’s more generaliazable to the average athlete.”