Science

In the know.

It’s not just your shins that need protection

The brain has a jelly-like consistency and sits within a hard-cased skull; a direct or indirect impact to the head or a whiplash effect will cause the brain to move inside the skull.

An impact will involve both linear forces and rotational forces. Linear forces are direct straight-line forces that compress or stretch the brain within the skull. Rotational forces are angled forces to the head from a ball, head, elbow, knee and ground. Rotational forces create mechanical forces that can twist and shear the brain cells. It is actually the repeated rotational forces that cause more significant damage than linear forces.

Research suggests up to 80% of impacts to the head in sport occur at the back and side of the skull. About 6% of head impacts are to the top of the head, with the top of the head contributing to the lowest rotational forces experienced by the brain.

Damage to the brain cells from an impact can be both immediate (damage to the cell structure) and delayed (blood flow changes or neural inflammation). Each impact to the brain has the potential to cause an injury that is as visceral as a torn hamstring. Brain injury happens at the microscopic level, 4,000 times smaller than the eye can see on a brain scan.

Rotational Damage

Females are at least three times more seriously impacted than males, with longer recovery time, longer and more pronounced post concussive symptoms.

Repetitive, sub-concussive impacts (i.e. impacts that do not produce overt signs or symptoms) cause damage to the brain when experienced repeatedly, and research suggests that these lead to neurodegeneration later in life.

So, with little pain, and no obvious physical injury, brain trauma in sport really is a serious injury that is “hidden in plain sight”. This is very different from other more visible and painful injuries in sport e.g. knee, ankle and shoulder injuries.

The brain is still developing important connections until the age of 23.