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Brain Injuries May Be Present in Football Players as Young as Eight Years Old

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It's so cute watching little kids wearing big, colorful football helmets, bright jerseys and running around on a field being tagged and sometimes tackled. As harmless as their level of play may look, their young developing brains are being subjected to jarring blows. They are taught early to depend on their gear to protect them from taking hits, but how much protection does that helmet provide? A study shows that children between the ages of 8 and 13 are already at risk of permanent brain injury.

The chief of neurology at Wake Forest School of Medicine, Christopher Whitlow, conducted a study of male football players between the ages of 8 and 13 years of age. That study recorded "head impact data," using a Head Impact Telemetry System to measure force. The recording revealed that the boys who received the most head injuries displayed a change in neurological activity. The greatest change was in a measurement of connective activity called fractional anisotropy.

Even though concussions were not present, the diminished fractional anisotropy, apparent in their brain activity, resembled that of mild brain trauma sufferers.

Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy May Begin Early

A condition called Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) has been in the recent spotlight on football players at the high school, college and professional levels. CTE is a slowly progressing, degenerative disease that develops in the brain in the decades following repeated concussions during their time spent on the field. This study indicates that the condition may already be initiated in football players as young as 8 years old.

In an interview with the Washington Post earlier this year, Ann McKee, director of the Boston University Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy Center, said that kids under 14 should not play football.

"Kids heads are a larger part of their body, and their necks are not as strong as adult's necks," McKee said. "So, kids may be at a greater risk of head and brain injuries than adults."

Youth athletic associations such as Pop Warner and USA Football have stringent guidelines in place regarding head injuries. Any player who is suspected of receiving a concussion is not permitted to re-enter play without the clearance of a medical practitioner. This protective measure is good for preventing a second injury to the same traumatized area of the brain. It is not, however, protection against traumatic brain injury caused by a single blow or jarring to the brain. There has been some progress made in helmet technology along with improvements in diagnostic equipment. But in the 8 to 13-year-old age group studied, no signs of concussion were apparent. This information should raise parental awareness and be taken into consideration before allowing young children to play football.

Standard Safety Measures for Youth Football

Within youth football leagues, including Pop Warner and USA Football, certain standards of safety are required to be applied. Coaches must have rapid access to emergency medical personnel during games. The home coach must direct the visiting coach to the location of emergency medical services and how they can be contacted. Coaches must not encourage unsafe play such as head butting, helmet spearing, neck (clothesline) tackling or any form of unnecessary roughness. No player should be returned to play after a suspected injury without clearance from a qualified medical practitioner. Should a child suffer an injury due to the negligence of a coach, that person can be held legally accountable.

Vititoe Law Group is committed to the safety of all youth sports. If your child was injured due to the negligence of a coach or school personnel or from the use of faulty athletic equipment, contact a sports injury attorney at Vititoe Law Group today for a free evaluation of your case.

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