Study: NYIT lacrosse players had cognitive effects

We're all aware of the dangers of concussions on the football field and their link to CTE. But what about the repeated head trauma that doesn't result in a concussion? Athletes should be concerned about those hits as well, according to a new study on lacrosse players at New York Institute of Technology in Old Westbury.

"With these sub-concussive hits, you're not going to see big differences right away," Dr. Hallie Zwibel said. "The problem with these is that over the course of years and years and years, they can result in some long-term damage to the brain."

Last spring, researchers monitored 10 lacrosse players who wore mouth guards with sensors in them to detect the impact of hits on brain behavior during their 18-game season. Researchers found that sub-concussive hits led to significant decreases to the players' memory and reaction time.

"Those milliseconds make a big difference in gameplay," Dr. Zwibel said. "But more importantly would be in the classroom. We want our student-athletes at 100 percent all the time."

"Definitely surprising, a little eye-opening seeing how many hits you actually take, whether it's big or small hits," sophomore midfielder Brian Hoerter said. "The little stuff that normally wouldn't affect you, you see come up on the results and it's a little eye-opener."

Returning to baseline memory function is possible. But it requires rest and avoiding the hits, which can be a tough task for athletes in contact sports.

"Seeing how many hits you take, you start to not shy away from them," Hoerter said. "But if you can avoid them, obviously avoid them."

A big part of keeping athletes safe is simply communication.

"There's always that stigma—you don't want to speak up, you don't want to lose your spot out on the field," NYIT Athletic Director Dan Vélez said. "The reality of it is in today's day and age, that's the old way of doing things. We've got to think longer than just today."

The university plans to apply this research to their other sports programs and continue to improve preventive measures to keep athletes safer.