Purposeful reduction of exposure to head impact in youth football can mean a lower likelihood of concussion and a reduction of its consequences, according to researchers.

The researchers, from the Department of Biomedical Engineering and Mechanics at Virginia Tech, examined exposure to head impacts among youth athletes, ages 9 to 12, during football games and practice drills.

Their goal was to determine under what circumstances high-magnitude head impacts occur, and how representative practices are to actual game play with respect to these head impacts, to help coaches and league officials make informed decisions regarding how to structure practices and games to reduce head injury risks among the players.

Participants in the study, published in Journal of Neurosurgery: Pediatrics, included 45 athletes from two youth football teams: Juniors (27 players, mean age 9.9 years) and Seniors (18 players, mean age 11.9 years). Biomechanical data and videos were collected during 14 games and 55 practice drills. All youths wore helmets equipped with accelerometer arrays that measure head impacts in terms of acceleration. Each time the arrays recorded a head impact greater than 14.4g, data collection was automatically triggered and the impact data were transmitted wirelessly to a sideline computer.

Videos of games and practice activities were recorded to verify the occurrence of a high-magnitude head impact, provide evidence of circumstances surrounding the impact, and record the duration of the activity in which the high-magnitude impact occurred, explains a media release from Journal of Neurosurgery Publishing Group.

To define specific circumstances in which high-magnitude head impacts occur, the researchers characterized these impacts based on 1) the position of the team member who received the head impact, 2) the place in the field where the impact occurred, 3) the cause of the impact, and 4) whether the impact occurred during a game or practice drill.

The accelerometer arrays recorded 7,590 head impacts, of which 571 (8%) were of high magnitude. Players in “Back” positions (quarterback, running back, and linebacker positions) sustained more head impacts than players in other positions. These players were more likely to experience high-magnitude head impacts during a tackling activity; players in offensive and defensive line positions were more likely to sustain head impacts during a blocking activity, the release continues.

A higher rate of high-magnitude impacts occurred during games than during practice sessions for both teams, according to the researchers. Nevertheless, practice sessions occur more frequently than games, and thus subject players to more opportunities to receive head impacts.

In addition, per the researchers, twice as many high-magnitude head impacts occurred among the Senior team members than among Junior team players. Differences in age and weight alone cannot explain this difference. However, per the captured video data, practice intensity or coaching style may be a factor.

“This study builds on a growing body of research on head impact exposure in youth football. 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,” states senior author Steven Rowson, PhD, in the release.

[Source(s): Journal of Neurosurgery Publishing Group, Science Daily]