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Number of Years Playing Football Not Linked to Youth’s Mental Function

Update Date: Mar 14, 2014 01:34 PM EDT

In a new study, researchers examined the relationship between the number of years an adolescent athlete participates in football and his neurocognitive function. Since concussions occur frequently in football, which is a rough, contact sport, young athletes' mental functions could be jeopardized to a certain extent. However, this study did not find any link between the two variables.

In this study, the research team analyzed data on 1,289 high school football athletes from New Orleans, LA. The data, which included age, concussion history, scores on neuropsychological tests, digit symbol substitutions (DSS), pure reaction time (PRT) and choice reaction time (CRT), were complied from August 1998 through to August 2001. The adolescents had a mean age of 15.9 and a mean playtime of 4.4 years. Four percent of the children had a sports-related concussion injury.

The researchers discovered that age was positively tied to the athlete's ability to perform on the DSS task. After controlling for age, the researchers found that the number of years an athlete played football was also positively linked to performance on the DSS task. An athlete's history of concussion, however, was not tied to his performance on the DSS task.

"The correlation between the number of years of football participation and the performance on the digit symbol substitution test does not support the hypothesis that participation in a collision sport negatively affects neurocognitive function," said lead author of the study, Gregory W. Stewart, MD, co-director of the Sports Medicine Program and associate professor of orthopedics at the Tulane School of Medicine, reported by Medical Xpress.

The researchers concluded that how long an adolescent participated in football was not detrimental to his neurocognitive function. They also concluded that playing football is not necessarily harmful. However, children athletes should be educated about the importance of reporting concussion symptoms so that they can be treated accordingly.

The study was presented at the 2014 Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons (AAOS).

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