Monday, May 21, 2012

Head Impacts in contact sports may reduce learning in college athletes

Media release: A new study suggests that head impacts experienced during contact sports such as football and hockey may worsen some college athletes' ability to acquire new information. The research is published in the May 16, 2012, online issue of Neurology®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

The study involved college athletes at three Division I schools and compared 214 athletes in contact sports to 45 athletes in non-contact sports such as track, crew and Nordic skiing at the beginning and at the end of their seasons. The contact sport athletes wore special helmets that recorded the acceleration speed and other data at the time of any head impact.

The contact sport athletes experienced an average of 469 head impacts during the season. Athletes were not included in the study if they were diagnosed with a concussion during the season.

In the study, all of the athletes took tests of thinking and memory skills before and after the season. A total of 45 contact sport athletes and 55 non-contact sport athletes from one of the schools also took an additional set of tests of concentration, working memory and other skills.

According to Harbin Clinic Neurologist, Dr. David Hale, "There is growing evidence that multiple concussions may have long-term consequences including learning disabilities and psychiatric disorders. This does not mean young people should not participate in contact sports. Coaches, parents, and athletes should recognize that concussions are serious injuries requiring specialized treatment. When there is a concussion injury, young people should not be allowed to compete again until cleared by a doctor who has experience treating concussions."

Dr. Hale is the region's only Neurologist with subspecialty accreditation in Sports Injuries and Concussion Management. He is a member of the Harbin Clinic Sports Medicine Team of physicians that provides treatment for area professional, college, and other leagues.

According to Dr. Hale, a concussion is a brain injury and in most cases with appropriate treatment, the injury heals with little or no long-term affect. "Most studies indicate that the greatest risk for long-term medical problems results from second concussions (brain injuries) before the first injury has healed."

According to study author Thomas W. McAllister, MD, of The Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth in Lebanon, N.H. "We did find that a higher percentage of the contact sport athletes had lower scores than would have been predicted after the season on a measure of new learning than the non-contact sport athletes."

A total of 22 percent of the contact sport athletes performed worse than expected on the test of new learning, compared to four percent of the non-contact sport athletes. "The findings do suggest that repetitive head impacts may have a negative effect on some athletes," Dr. McAllister said.

The study was supported by the National Institutes of Health and the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment. To learn more about concussion, visit

The American Academy of Neurology, an association of more than 25,000 neurologists and neuroscience professionals, is dedicated to promoting the highest quality patient-centered neurologic care.

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