Purdue University researchers, following high school football players, have discovered changes in players who did not have concussions.
The researchers followed a high school football team for two years taking MRIs and neuro-tests before, during and after the football season. They also used helmet sensors and shot videos of each play. The players took between 2 hundred and 18 hundred hits to the head in the course of the season.
"If you have somebody on defense, on the line, who plays every snap, they probably hit their head fifty times if they have fifty plays," says researcher Eric Nauman.
Nauman says they were originally looking into concussions but the study took a turn.
"We just weren't getting enough concussions at the beginning of the season. We were kind bored, to be honest, we're kind of - we're watching all the games and taking data, trying to figure out what's going on. We finally just started bringing people in just to see what would happen," Nauman says.
And they were surprised by what they saw: neurocognitive changes in kids who had no concussions and no symptoms.
Most of the other studies on athletic head injuries have compared concussed athletes and non-athletes, not other athletes who have had hits, but no symptoms.
"We seem to get a lot of resistance from the medical community by taking players and studying ones that have not been diagnosed with a concussion. I think that's kind of almost a medical bias that if they can't see the symptoms there must not be anything wrong," Nauman says.
Nauman says that about half the kids without symptoms were showing changes in their neurophysiology.
The study is now in its third year and is expanding to two football teams and a girls soccer team.