PLoS One. 2023 Sep 8;18(9):e0291374. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0291374. eCollection 2023.
INTRODUCTION: Repetitive, subconcussive events may adversely affect the brain and cognition during sensitive periods of development. Prevention of neurocognitive consequences of concussion in high school football is therefore an important public health priority. We aimed to identify the player positions and demographic, behavioral, cognitive, and impact characteristics that predict the frequency and acceleration of head impacts in high school football players.
METHODS: In this prospective study, three cohorts of adolescent male athletes (N = 53, 28.3% Hispanic) were recruited over three successive seasons in a high school American football program. Demographic and cognitive functioning were assessed at baseline prior to participating in football. Helmet sensors recorded impact frequency and acceleration. Each head impact was captured on film from five different angles. Research staff verified and characterized on-field impacts. Player-level Poisson regressions and year-level and impact-level linear mixed-effect models were used to determine demographic, behavioral, cognitive, and impact characteristics as predictors of impact frequency and acceleration.
RESULTS: 4,678 valid impacts were recorded. Impact frequency positively associated with baseline symptoms of hyperactivity-impulsivity [β(SE) = 1.05 impacts per year per unit of symptom severity (1.00), p = 0.01] and inattentiveness [β(SE) = 1.003 impacts per year per T-score unit (1.001), p = 0.01]. Compared to quarterbacks, the highest acceleration impacts were sustained by kickers/punters [β(SE) = 21.5 g’s higher (7.1), p = 0.002], kick/punt returners [β(SE) = 9.3 g’s higher (4.4), p = 0.03], and defensive backs [β(SE) = 4.9 g’s higher (2.5), p = 0.05]. Impacts were more frequent in the second [β(SE) = 33.4 impacts (14.2), p = 0.02)] and third [β(SE) = 50.9 impacts (20.1), p = 0.01] year of play. Acceleration was highest in top-of-the-head impacts [β(SE) = 4.4 g’s higher (0.8), p<0.001].
CONCLUSION: Including screening questions for Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder in pre-participation evaluations can help identify a subset of prospective football players who may be at risk for increased head impacts. Position-specific strategies to modify kickoffs and correct tackling and blocking may also reduce impact burden.