The NFL might get all the limelight when it comes to concussions and neck injuries, but it’s kids out on the sports field that should be getting more attention. There are fewer than 2000 NFL players, and for every one of those, there are about 2000 kids playing youth football across the country.
You may have read in the news (here or here) about how players 8-13 years of age showed changes on MRI that were associated with a traumatic brain injury (TBI). What makes this surprising is that none of the players showed any signs or symptoms of a concussion.
Neurons are delicate, and damage to them can accumulate over time even with injuries that aren’t severe enough to reach the level of a concussion. The players in the study, who wore special helmets that were able to track impacts, showed changes in the white matter of their brains. This is especially concerning since the white matter, which helps different parts of the brain communicate with each other, is still developing during this age. Any changes in this normal development may have lifelong effects on other aspects of brain function, including behavior, cognitive function, and personality.
Protecting Our Kids
Despite what it may seem, this research was not a cry to put an end to football for children. Rather, furthering our understanding of the types of changes that are taking place will only help to improve the safety of the game going forward.
Naturally, kids’ necks are not as strong as adults’ are, which puts kids at greater risk of injury. The NFL has taken some steps in the right direction concerning concussion protocols, and doing simple things like knowing how to recognize the signs and symptoms of a concussion right away can lead to better outcomes for kids. It’s also important to not be tempted by the “walk it off” attitude, and to take the time to discern if there might be more subtle signs to look for.
Working with young athletes in our practice, we take the same mindful approach as we do with adults. Our goal is always to identify primary areas of Structural Abnormality within the spine and reintroduce strength and stability over time. The number one reason for a Structural Shift in the spine is injury. Kids are naturally resilient and do very well with NeuroStructural Chiropractic. It’s not just about getting them back out on the field doing what they love, it’s about ensuring healthy brain function and development that will last a lifetime.