A promising athlete, 13-year-old Zackery Lystadt’s head hit the ground as he rolled through a routine tackle in 2006. He didn’t lose consciousness. But he did lie on the ground for a moment after the play, clutching the sides of his helmet. His coach took him out for two plays.
Then Lystadt played the rest of the game. At the closing whistle he collapsed and was rushed to the hospital, where he required emergency neurosurgery to relieve pressure inside his skull.
Today Lystadt is learning to walk again. The state of Washington created a new law in his name, sometimes known as the “shake it off” law, which requires players who show signs of concussion to be examined and cleared by a medical practitioner prior to re-entering a game.
But what about damage short of a concussion? What’s happening in the brains of kids who play football and don’t show outward signs of injury?
In the journal Radiology today, an imaging study shows that players ages 8 to 13 who have had no concussion symptoms still show changes associated with traumatic brain injury.
Christopher Whitlow, chief of neuroradiology at Wake Forest School of Medicine, wanted to see how head impact affects developing brains. His team studied male football players between ages 8 and 13 over the course of a season, recording “head impact data” using a Head Impact Telemetry System to measure force, which was correlated with video of games and practices.