Young children were more likely to experience high-impact head injuries during athletic practices while those performing at higher levels were more likely to sustain head injuries during competition, according to a study published in the Journal of Neurotrauma.
“Although concussion can be a significant injury, the majority of the head impacts that result from regular participation in football are termed subconcussive impacts,” Jillian E. Urban, PhD, from the department of biomedical engineering at Wake Forest School of Medicine, and colleagues wrote. “Recent case reports of chronic traumatic encephalopathy and associated memory loss, dementia and depression in former professional athletes participating in collision sports have brought attention to possible long-term consequences of head impacts in sports, both concussive and subconcussive.”
To assess youth athletes’ exposure to head injuries, the researchers evaluated three separate age and weight classes throughout four seasons in one youth football organization. They used the Head Impact Telemetry System to gather head impact data, and Wald tests to determine differences in accelerations and number of impacts in competition vs. practices.
Three groups comprised the study, with 39 children in level A (age = 10.8±0.7 years; weight = 97.5±11.8 lb), 48 in level B (age = 11.9±0.5 years; weight = 106±13.8 lb) and 32 in level C (age = 13±0.5 years; weight = 126.5±18.6 lb). In the three groups combined, the researchers assessed 40,538 head impacts.
Urban and colleagues observed a median acceleration of 19.8/49.4g in level A, 20.6/51.0g in level B, and 22.0/57.9g in level C. They observed a higher average acceleration in level C than in both level A (P = .005) and level B (P = .02). The researchers also noted a significant difference in the number of head injuries sustained during competition vs. practice (level A: P = .0005; level B: P = .0019; level C: P < .001). Further, youth athletes in lower levels obtained more impacts in practices, and higher-level athletes sustained more in competition.
“It is noteworthy that there are significant increases in head impact magnitudes from one level to the next within a single youth organization,” Urban and colleagues wrote. “This suggests that all youth athletes cannot be grouped together when studying [head impact exposure] and injury risk and more data are needed at all levels within youth football, especially at the youngest levels. … With increasing concern over the long-term neurological effects of repetitive head impacts, data from all levels are needed to understand athletes’ exposure to head impacts over a lifetime.” — by Katherine Bortz
Disclosure: The researchers report no relevant financial disclosures.