Journal of Neurosurgery: Pediatrics, Ahead of Print.
OBJECTIVEEven in the absence of a clinically diagnosed concussion, research suggests that neurocognitive changes may develop in football players as a result of frequent head impacts that occur during football games and practices. The objectives of this study were to determine the specific situations in which high-magnitude impacts (accelerations exceeding 40g) occur in youth football games and practices and to assess how representative practice activities are of games with regard to high-magnitude head impact exposure.METHODSA total of 45 players (mean age 10.7 ± 1.1 years) on 2 youth teams (Juniors [mean age 9.9 ± 0.6 years; mean body mass 38.9 ± 9.9 kg] and Seniors [mean age 11.9 ± 0.6 years; mean body mass 51.4 ± 11.8 kg]) wore helmets instrumented with accelerometer arrays to record head impact accelerations for all practices and games. Video recordings from practices and games were used to verify all high-magnitude head impacts, identify specific impact characteristics, and determine the amount of time spent in each activity.RESULTSA total of 7590 impacts were recorded, of which 571 resulted in high-magnitude head impact accelerations exceeding 40g (8%). Impacts were characterized based on the position played by the team member who received the impact, the part of the field where the impact occurred, whether the impact occurred during a game or practice play, and the cause of the impact. High-magnitude impacts occurred most frequently in the open field in both games (59.4%) and practices (67.5%). “Back” position players experienced a greater proportion of high-magnitude head impacts than players at other positions. The 2 teams in this study structured their practice sessions similarly with respect to time spent in each drill, but impact rates differed for each drill between the teams.CONCLUSIONSHigh-magnitude head impact exposure in games and practice drills was quantified and used as the basis for comparison of exposure in the 2 settings. In this cohort, game impact rates exceeded those for practice. Back players, who were often positioned in the open field, were shown to experience elevated levels of head impact exposure relative to players at other positions. The analysis also suggests that practice intensity, which may be influenced by coaching style, may also affect high-magnitude head impact exposure. Future studies should investigate this aspect as a factor affecting head impact exposure.