Linking Head Impact Exposures to Changes in Brain Structure and Function
We were one of the first research groups to demonstrate that repetitive sub-concussive head hits after a single collegiate football season, where the number of hits ranged from 431-1850, resulted in brain white matter changes on diffusion tensor imaging. These changes were similar to ones detected after concussion, which were thought to be a result of traumatic axonal injury. We subsequently demonstrated that these axonal injury-like white matter changes correlated to cumulative head impact forces measured by helmet-based accelerometers, suggesting a causal link to repetitive sub-concussive head hits. That they resolved after 6 months of no contact in some players suggested they may be reversible with rest, the same strategy used to treat concussion. However, unlike concussion, repetitive head hits that result in axonal injury are not routinely identified, and thus are not treated with a period of rest or limited exposure to head hits.
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