Study shows kids who play football and soccer experience brain changes

SALT LAKE CITY – Many parents worry about letting their children play sports like football or soccer because it’s easy to suffer head injuries, but some new research may be offering parents some guidance.

While we hear a lot about the dangers of concussions, researchers say other head impacts can change our kid’s brains.

Around 45 million children participate in organized sports every year. Utah mother Lacey Skipps has four sons who play football.

“I have a 14-year-old who's a freshman, a 12-year-old, 10-year-old, and 7-year-old," Skipps said.

Like some parents, she had reservations. The fear is kids suffering a head injury, particularly a concussion.

A new report published by the Radiological Society of North America highlights other concerns parents should be aware of. Researchers say children’s brains change after playing a single season of youth football, even without a concussion diagnosis.

Also, after soccer practice where players headed the ball, they discovered small changes in brain function.

“We are definitely seeing more head injuries in children who participate in sports,” said Dr. Charles Pruitt, Pediatric Emergency Medical Physician at Primary Children's Hospital.

Dr. Pruitt says even minor head injuries that most parents may not consider serious can be just as damaging as a concussion, especially if it’s repetitive.

“The brain receives blood supply from blood vessels, and those tiny blood vessels can be torn and injured just by movement inside the skull," Pruitt said.

Lacey’s boys also participate in Rugby.

“Rugby helps you learn how to tackle properly," she said. "It teaches you how to tackle with your shoulders rather than using your head.”

She believes with that foundation, good coaches, and proactive parents, kids can play it safe.

“Sports can be safe and fun and that's what parents should aim for,” Dr. Pruitt said.