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The dangerous effects of high impact sports

SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 Utah) - At least 50 Utahns fall victim to serious brain injury each day and some believe contact sports are to blame, concussion or not.
American Fork High School football players
American Fork High School football players
SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 Utah) - At least 50 Utahns fall victim to serious brain injury each day and some believe contact sports are to blame, concussion or not.

The push of a puck is pivotal in a hockey game while focus on the football field may be the only way to overcome competitors.  Unfortunately, both sports often end in injury.

"Brain injuries occur day in and day out," George Gehling said.

As the executive director of the Brain Injury Alliance of Utah he told ABC4 Utah that hard hits almost always cause damage even if they are not direct.

"When your head jerks forward your brain is going to move and that can have the same kind of effect as getting hit directly in the head," he said.

A new study from the Indiana School of Medicine substantiated those claims.  In it researchers compared 80 hockey and football players to 80 non-contact athletes.  Even though none of the high impact players suffered a concussion, hard hits physically changed the white matter in their brain.

"What they found is there are some minor changes on the MRI, even in athletes that don't report that they've had a concussion," Doctor Rick Figler said.

Doctors believe that could impact memory and thinking.  However, what are parents expected to do in order to protect their kids?  Gehling told ABC4 Utah helmets are not always the answer.

"It's really hard for a helmet to prevent the brain from moving when a hit is significant enough," he said.

Instead, Gehling recommends that parents focus on safety.

First, he said, "Take steps to make sure they follow coaches direction."

Second, Gehling said to watch for signs of injury like blurred vision, loss of concentration, or irritability.

Third, "Don't push hard to get your child back in the game before they're ready," he said.

Doctors believe those precautions may keep your child safe.  It is important to note that helmets can too.  While they may not prevent brain movement in a high-impact situation, Gehling told ABC4 Utah they still save lives.  In fact, the number one cause of brain injury among Utah kids can be prevented by using a helmet while children ride bikes. Get more prevention tips here.
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