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Study examines head impact exposure in youth football

Researchers at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center have developed a way to measure the cumulative effect of head impacts by football players, according to a Science Daily article.

The metric can show a player’s exposure to concussion over the course of a season, according to the article.

The study was published in BMES’ Annals of Biomedical Engineering. The senior author is BMES member Joel Stitzel, chair of biomedical engineering at Wake Forest Baptist and associate head of the Virginia Tech-Wake Forest University School of Biomedical Engineering and Sciences.

According to the study’s abstract, head impact exposure in youth football has not been well-documented, despite children under the age of 14 accounting for 70% of all football players in the United States.

The objective of this study was to quantify the head impact exposure of youth football players, age 9–12, for all practices and games over the course of single season. A total of 50 players (age = 11.0 ± 1.1 years) on three teams were equipped with helmet mounted accelerometer arrays, which monitored each impact players sustained during practices and games.

During the season, 11,978 impacts were recorded for this age group. Players averaged 240 ± 147 impacts for the season with linear and rotational 95th percentile magnitudes of 43 ± 7 g and 2034 ± 361 rad/s2.

Overall, practice and game sessions involved similar impact frequencies and magnitudes. One of the three teams however, had substantially fewer impacts per practice and lower 95th percentile magnitudes in practices due to a concerted effort to limit contact in practices.

The same team also participated in fewer practices, further reducing the number of impacts each player experienced in practice. Head impact exposures in games showed no statistical difference.

While the acceleration magnitudes among 9–12 year old players tended to be lower than those reported for older players, some recorded high magnitude impacts were similar to those seen at the high school and college level, according to the abstract.

Head impact exposure in youth football may be appreciably reduced by limiting contact in practices. Further research is required to assess whether such a reduction in head impact exposure will result in a reduction in concussion incidence, the abstract concludes.