November 03, 2017
2 min read

Severe head impacts more likely among skilled positions in youth football

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Although all youth football players frequently sustain head impacts during both games and practices, players in skilled positions – including the quarterback, running back, and linebacker – are most likely to experience high-magnitude head impacts with greater opportunity for concussion, according to a study published in the Journal of Neurosurgery: Pediatrics.

“Exposure to head impacts in football has been shown to result in neurocognitive and brain changes, even in the absence of clinically diagnosed concussion,” Steven Rowson, PhD, from the department of biomedical engineering and mechanics at Virginia Tech, and colleagues wrote. “Most research quantifying head impact exposure in football has focused on high school, collegiate or professional populations, despite the fact that youth football players represent 70% of all players in the United States.”

Children and adolescents who play skilled football positions may be at higher risk for head impacts and concussion.

To pinpoint specific circumstances in which high-magnitude impacts over 40 g in youth football games and practices occur, as well as how impacts compare in practices and games, the researchers conducted a study in which 45 players (mean age = 10.7 ± 1.1 years; mean body mass = 38.9 ± 9.9 kg) on two teams (juniors [mean age = 9.9 years ± 0.6 years] and seniors [mean age = 11. 9 ± 0.6; mean body mass = 51.4 ± 11.8 kg]).

All players wore accelerometer arrays on helmets in both practices and games to measure head impact accelerations. High-magnitude impacts were confirmed through video recordings of games and practices. These videos were also used to specify impact characteristics and quantify the amount of time spent for each activity.

Of the 7,590 impacts assessed, 571 led to high-magnitude impact accelerations greater than 40 g. The majority of high-magnitude impacts occurred in the open field during games (59.4%) and practices (67.5%) to skilled position players. When videos were assessed, practices were similar for both teams regarding time spent for each drill; however, impact rates differed between teams for each drill.

“This study builds on a growing body of research on head impact exposure in youth football,” Rowson said in a press release. “These studies are important because they allow you to make data-driven decisions when structuring changes to practice in football to reduce exposure to head impact. Purposeful reduction of exposure means less opportunity for concussion and a reduction in any potential consequences of cumulative exposure.” – by Katherine Bortz

Disclosures: The authors report no relevant financial disclosures.