Getting hit in the head repeatedly as in boxing for example seems not too healthy. Football injuries as well can cause long term problems. Just look at some of the ex NFL players who have suffered early onset dementia and other forms of traumatic brain injury.
What about football players (of course helmeted) who do not suffer concussions, but have been hit in the head? Until now no one has really investigated this.
A recent study of high school football players used some rather clever ways of determining head injuries. Players were fitted with special helmets, in which motion sensors were placed. These sensors were able to record not only the frequency of hits but also the intensity of the force on the helmet. To ensure that the sensors were not malfunctioning, video feed of the actual head butting or other trauma was compared with the time of the sensor recording.
Players were divided into “heavy” and “light” hitters. MRI as well as other sophisticated images were taken of all the players. It turns out that there were significant structural findings noted, even in those cases where a concussion did not occur. “Heavy” hitters had greater changes than their more mellow counterparts.
Unfortunately, the study did not compare results to nonparticipating males of the same age. What this means is that it is not completely clear, whether these results are just from normal adolescence or from head injuries. Still, the findings are concerning. If just getting bopped repeatedly on the head can lead to changes in the brain, what will these changes lead to later in life?
Until more studies come out, I recommend that not only the NFL, but also high schools take a very close look at the current rules of play for football. Parents should carefully consider whether the risks of contact sports such as football are really worth the gain.