If your son or daughter is playing a sport that puts him or her at risk for concussion, consider this: The brain damage your child could suffer on the field or in the arena is not much different from the brain damage a soldier can sustain from a blast on the battlefield.
Think about that while you are signing junior up for peewee football this fall.
Those are the findings of a study conducted by Boston-area researchers and published last week in Science Translational Medicine, the results of which only magnify the seriousness of blows to the head and the lasting impact no matter how they are delivered.
"There's nothing special about the blast, no particular magic in how it is delivered," said Lee E. Goldstein, a Boston University doctor and neuroscientist who co-authored the study. "In both types of blasts, there is some impact which leads to acceleration of the head -- particularly rotational acceleration -- that is particularly damaging."
As part of the study, scientists examined the brains of a number of deceased athletes and soldiers, primarily in their 20s, who had suffered similar numbers of concussions and found early stages of CTE -- chronic traumatic encephalopathy -- among other damage in both soldiers and athletes.
"In all cases, whether it is a blast or a hit from a boxing glove or a tackle or a hockey stick to the head, the law of physics is involved in all of them," Goldstein said. "It's really analogous to what happens when the head is hit on the ball field."
Ann C. McKee, a neuropathologist with the Veterans Affairs Boston Healthcare System, also conducted the study.
"This is something parents need to be aware of," she said. "We urge parents of young children who are playing sports to minimize head contact and avoid styles of play that use the head as a weapon."
Concussions have become the plague of sports, a runaway train of fear that shows no sign of slowing down. More former NFL players are suing the league now, claiming long-term brain damage from concussions, than are on all 32 current team rosters. And it has become the heated topic of debate among current and former players, the latest being New York Jets linebacker Bart Scott, who said he would not let his son play football because of concussions concerns.
"I don't want to have to deal with him getting a concussion and what it would be like later in life," Scott told the New York Daily News.
Both Goldstein and McKee said their results are not a death knell for sports and are hopeful that more research will result in ways to protects athletes.
"Not every injury is a ticking time bomb," Goldstein said.
It just may seem that way to the head of the football player on the field.