Child football players don’t make the rough tackles that are common in the National Football league, but a new study shows that playing football affects young children’s brain development.
The study was published recently in the Journal of Neurotrauma, and found that when children play organized football before age 12, they have a greater risk of altered brain development when compared to those who start playing in their teens. This is the first study to demonstrate a link between early repetitive head trauma and future brain development.
The study reviewed 40 former NFL players between ages 40 and 65. They played over 12 years of organized football, a minimum of two years in the NFL. Half the players began playing organized football before age 12 and the other half started at age 12 or later. Both groups experienced a similar number of concussions. All players had memory and cognitive issues, at least six months.
“To examine brain development in these players, we used an advanced technique called diffusor tensor imaging (DTI), a type of magnetic resonance imaging that specifically looks at the movement of water molecules along white matter tracts, which are the super-highways within the brain for relaying commands and information,” said study author Dr. Inga Koerte, professor of neurobiological research at the University of Munich and visiting professor at Harvard University.
The team reported that there is a growing body of evidence for brain vulnerability to injury between ages 10 and 12.