Minor Blows to the Head: Can They Cause Brain Damage?

Emily E. Dixon DO, of the TriHealth Orthopedic and Spine Institute, and a faculty member with the sports medicine fellowship at Bethesda Family Practice, discusses the long-term effects of seemingly minor blows to the head during contact sports.

The Impact of “Minor” Hits

While it’s more obvious that experiencing a serious concussion while participating in sports can cause long-term brain damage, a new study in the online journal, PLOS, found that little hits along the way can cause problems, too.

“The fact of the matter is, each time you have an impact activity to your head, it is a small, what we call, traumatic brain injury. It is damage to the brain,” Dr. Dixon tells Local 12’s Liz Bonis.

She says you don’t have to be knocked unconscious, hit your head on the ground, or be directly hit in the head in order for the hit to cause problems. “The repetitive force of the brain kind of going back and forth in your skull can cause minor damage,” she points out.

Researchers who participated in the study took blood samples of college athletes after a game and found that in a small percentage of those, there was a higher measure for an autoimmune response. This means there is a higher level of protein in the blood, which is generally only present in those with epilepsy or dementia – more serious brain problems.

Are Contact Sports Worth the Risk?

This protein does not typically get into the bloodstream; however, Dr. Dixon tells parents to talk to their own healthcare provider if they are concerned about their child’s cumulating head hits. She also points out the benefits of kids playing sports, including:

  • Decreased risk of obesity
  • Better academic performance
  • Less drug abuse
  • Less sexual activity at a young age
  • Helping kids develop teamwork and leaderships kills

Moreover, Dr. Dixon does not think gradual brain damage risk should keep kids from playing sports altogether. “I think you just have to balance that,” she says.

Tags Orthopedics , Wellness and Fitness

Last Updated: March 21, 2013