IU researchers uncovering information about football head injuries for parents

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("IMG_9763_1" by Chad Routh, CC BY-SA 2.0)

Researchers at Indiana University have a goal of making sure parents have all the facts before allowing or not allowing their children to play football.

Over the last decade, more has started to become understood about head injuries connected to the frequent hits taken by athletes on the gridiron. Protections against concussions and Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy have been advanced to help keep players healthy and safe.

Still, Dr. Jesse Steinfeldt, who specializes in sports psychology at IU, tells Inside Indiana Business that in an age of misinformation, there is a lot of it floating around about football-related concussions and CTE.

“Football is a contact sport and contact tends to worry parents, so we’ve seen declines in participation rates, particularly in youth football,” Steinfeldt said. “The narratives about CTE and cumulative impacts are abound in society without enough data to substantiate what you can do to mitigate the risk.”

Steinfeldt is working with Dr. Keisuke Kawata, who specializes in brain injuries, on trying to clear up some of the misinterpreted information out there about football-related head injuries.

They are conducting a study involving high school football players at Bloomington North, Bloomington South, Edgewood, and Mooresville. Researchers are attending practices each week to monitor any heavy-hitting and using technology to gather data on those hits and the effects they may have on the brain that aren’t immediately apparent. Kawata said they are also using blood draws and methods to look at biochemicals produced by the body after taking a hard hit.

“So we can use some of those biochemical signals to study brain health,” said Kawata. “We are also testing some functional tests such as eye-tracking and eye movement.”

He added that they are also outfitting some players with “cutting edge” mouth-guards that have computer chips and tiny gyroscopes inside them which can help them measure the impact on hits to a player’s head.

Steinfeldt is also using the study as a recruiting tool to get more high school-age students to think about a career in sport psychology and sports medicine.

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