WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. (WISH) - When you see the Boilermaker football team hit the field for their first game this weekend, there will be a little something different inside some players' helmets.
A group of Purdue researchers have been studying brain injuries in high school football players for four years now. They got the okay this year to move up the intensity level.
“We say we’re using football as a laboratory,” said Larry Leverenz, part of the Purdue Neurotrauma Group, and a Clinical Professor of Health and Kinesiology.
Leverenz says they’ll study the hits a dozen freshman players take, over the entire season.
They’ve inserted sensors into their helmets, to send the data directly to a computer.
Each player will also have an MRI before, during, and after the season.
The researchers say they’ve learned a lot from studying high school football players the past four years.
Some high school players took 1,800 hits in a 10-12 week high school season.
Even if kids don't have a concussion they say, research has shown the brain could be affected by those hits.
“We do know there are significant changes that occur even from blows that don't cause any symptoms whatsoever,” said Leverenz.
“Players that have dramatic changes to neurophysiology, the way the brain works, while they're doing simple tasks, even without symptoms,” explained Eric Nauman, a Purdue biomechanical engineering professor, and also part of the Purdue Neurotrauma group.
Nauman says it likely takes three to four months for a player's brain to recover from the season.
Now their question is: what if that player goes onto play college ball, at a higher level?
Interestingly enough, they think college football could be easier on the brain than high school.
“You get players that are bigger, stronger and faster, but you also get players with better technique. We're actually expecting to find the magnitude of the hits are smaller, the hits are more controlled. We expect the changes to be less than what we see in the high school,” explained Nauman.
Of course, only time will tell.
This study is just beginning.
The researchers are also studying hits during women’s soccer at the collegiate level. They say they see the same magnitude of hits as football players, but not as often.
The researchers are using their data in a number of ways already: creating safer helmets, and looking for better techniques for players.
They’re also looking to do more.
“Take what we're doing with football, and translate that to what's happening to our military, what's happening to our soldiers in combat, what's happening in motor vehicle crashes, even the 3-year-old that falls off their bicycle in the driveway,” said Leverenz.
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