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Altered brain microstructure in association with repetitive subconcussive head impacts and the potential protective effect of jugular vein compression: a longitudinal study of female soccer athletes

Abstract

Purpose To (1) quantify white matter (WM) alterations in female high school athletes during a soccer season and characterise the potential for normalisation during the off-season rest period, (2) determine the association between WM alterations and exposure to repetitive subconcussive head impacts, and (3) evaluate the efficacy of a jugular vein compression collar to prevent WM alterations associated with head impact exposure.

Methods Diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) data were prospectively collected from high school female soccer participants (14–18 years) at up to three time points over 9 months. Head impacts were monitored using accelerometers during all practices and games. Participants were assigned to a collar (n=24) or non-collar group (n=22). The Tract-Based Spatial Statistics approach was used in the analysis of within-group longitudinal change and between-group comparisons.

Results DTI analyses revealed significant pre-season to post-season WM changes in the non-collar group in mean diffusivity (2.83%±2.46%), axial diffusivity (2.58%±2.34%) and radial diffusivity (3.52%±2.60%), but there was no significant change in the collar group despite similar head impact exposure. Significant correlation was found between head impact exposure and pre-season to post-season DTI changes in the non-collar group. WM changes in the non-collar group partially resolved at 3 months off-season follow-up.

Discussion Microstructural changes in WM occurred during a season of female high school soccer among athletes who did not wear the collar device. In comparison, there were no changes in players who wore the collar, suggesting a potential prophylactic effect of the collar device in preventing changes associated with repetitive head impacts. In those without collar use, the microstructural changes showed a reversal towards normal over time in the off-season follow-up period.

  • concussion
  • injury prevention
  • soccer
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