Select your localized edition:

Close ×

More Ways to Connect

Discover one of our 28 local entrepreneurial communities »

Be the first to know as we launch in new countries and markets around the globe.

Interested in bringing MIT Technology Review to your local market?

MIT Technology ReviewMIT Technology Review - logo

 

Unsupported browser: Your browser does not meet modern web standards. See how it scores »

Football players who suffer a concussion on the field may not have fully healed even after their outward symptoms, such as memory or balance problems, have disappeared. The findings come from a study of nearly 400 high school and college football players using a new portable device for assessing brain injury.

Researchers hope the findings, and some form of portable brain-monitoring device, will help physicians determine when it is safe for players to return to the field.

“There has long been speculation that even after symptoms resolve, there is a period of vulnerability at which the brain has not completely healed,” says Michael McCrea, a neuropsychologist at Waukesha (WI) Memorial Hospital, who led the study. “This study provides some preliminary support for that theory.”

Last fall, the National Football League instituted new rules requiring players who have suffered head trauma to get permission from an independent neurologist before returning to play. Diagnosing brain trauma accurately is difficult. Also, while the issue is still controversial, many scientists and physicians think a blow to the head while the brain is still healing from an earlier blow might significantly worsen damage, especially in the long-term.

The danger of repeated concussions has become a major issue in professional football, thanks to a number of high-profile cases of ex-players suffering early dementia and severe psychological problems. Autopsies of at least six former professional players who donated their brains to research revealed chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative brain disease caused by head trauma.

An estimated 1.6 million to 3.8 million sports-related traumatic brain injuries occur each year. One of the biggest challenges in studying concussion, and both the long-term and short-term effects of repeated concussions, is finding a reliable way to assess brain injury. The damage that results from concussions is typically too subtle to be detected with traditional brain imaging technologies. So physicians diagnose it based on characteristic symptoms, such as nausea and headache, as well as through cognitive and neurological tests.

Many football players, eager to return to the field, also underreport injuries and their symptoms. According to anonymous surveys of football players, about 50 percent sustain a concussion during the season, many more than are actually reported, says Chris Nowinski, president of the Sports Legacy Institute, a nonprofit organization based in Waltham, MA, that studies brain injury in athletes. A noninvasive, simple device that could be used immediately after the injury occurred would provide a way to objectively measure a player’s symptoms.

4 comments. Share your thoughts »

Credit: Technology Review

Tagged: Biomedicine, brain, EEG, sports, brain injury, football, helmet

Reprints and Permissions | Send feedback to the editor

From the Archives

Close

Introducing MIT Technology Review Insider.

Already a Magazine subscriber?

You're automatically an Insider. It's easy to activate or upgrade your account.

Activate Your Account

Become an Insider

It's the new way to subscribe. Get even more of the tech news, research, and discoveries you crave.

Sign Up

Learn More

Find out why MIT Technology Review Insider is for you and explore your options.

Show Me
×

A Place of Inspiration

Understand the technologies that are changing business and driving the new global economy.

September 23-25, 2014
Register »