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Football findings suggest concussions caused by series of hits

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - A two-year study of high school football players suggests that concussions are likely caused by many hits over time and not from a single blow to the head, as commonly believed.

Purdue University researchers have studied football players for two seasons at Jefferson High School in Lafayette, Ind., where 21 players completed the study the first season and 24 the second season, including 16 repeating players.

Helmet-sensor impact data from each player were compared with brain-imaging scans and cognitive tests performed before, during and after each season.

"The most important implication of the new findings is the suggestion that a concussion is not just the result of a single blow, but it's really the totality of blows that took place over the season," said Eric Nauman, an associate professor of mechanical engineering and an expert in central nervous system and musculoskeletal trauma. "The one hit that brought on the concussion is arguably the straw that broke the camel's back."

Researchers evaluated players using a type of brain imaging technology called functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI, along with a computer-based neurocognitive screening test. The fMRI scans reveal which parts of the brain are most active during specific tasks.

Thomas Talavage, an expert in functional neuroimaging and co-director of the Purdue MRI Facility, said the scans indicate players are adapting their mental processes to deal with brain changes.

"The changes in brain activity we are observing suggest that a player is having to use a different strategy to perform a task, and that is likely because functional capacity is reduced," Talavage said. "The level of change in the fMRI signal is significantly correlated to the number and distribution of hits that a player takes. Performance doesn't change, but brain activity changes, showing that certain areas are no longer being recruited to perform a

Contact: Emil Venere
Purdue University

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