Athletes participating in collision and contact sports have differences in brain structure, and function compared to athletes in non-contact sports, recent research suggests. Unlike previous research, which explored the effects of collision sports like hockey and football, the present study focused on sports where body contact is ‘permitted, but not purposeful” – such as soccer, field hockey and basketball. Brain scans of contact sport athletes showed a difference in white matter structure, as well as signs of reduced communication between brain areas and decreased activity in areas associated with vision and motor function. None of the athletes participating in the study reported any health issues and the differences in brain structures don’t seem to be impairing any normal function. However, researchers say this study helps fill the gap in our understanding of contact sports’ effect on cognitive health and function.


Nathan W. Churchill, Michael G. Hutchison, Alex P. Di Battista, Simon J. Graham and Tom A. Schweizer

Corresponding Canadian author: 

Tom Schweizer, Neuroscience Research Program, St. Michael’s Hospital, Toronto, ON, Email:

Original paper published in Frontiers of Neurology on August 23, 2017.