Head hits can be reduced in youth football

July 29, 2013

Less contact during practice could mean a lot less exposure to head injuries for young football players, according to researchers at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center and Virginia Tech.

Their study of 50 youth-league ages 9 to 12—the largest ever conducted to measure the effects of impacts in youth football—found that contact in practice, not games, was the most significant variable when the number and force of head hits incurred over the course of a season were measured. Numerous studies in this area have been done on high school and college players, but those findings do not necessarily apply to younger players.

Though more than 70 percent of the in the United States are under age 14, there is no clear, scientifically based understanding of the effect of repeated blows to the head in young players, said Steven Rowson, Ph.D., assistant professor at the Virginia Tech-Wake Forest University School of Biomedical Engineering and lead author of the study, which is published in the current online edition of the Annals of Biomedical Engineering and Sciences.

To quantify youth football players' exposure to head impacts in practices and games over the course of a single season, the researchers empoyed sensors in the of 50 players on three teams in two different leagues.

The sensors were installed on an elastic base inside the helmet so that they remained in contact with the head throughout the of , allowing for measurement of head acceleration rather than that of the helmet. Data from the were transmitted wirelessly to a computer on the sideline and processed to measure both the linear and rotational head acceleration caused by each impact. All data were analyzed on an individual player basis and then averaged to represent the exposure level of a typical 9- to12-year-old football player.

The most important finding was that substantial differences existed among the three teams for both frequency and of the impacts, Rowson said. For the entire season, players on team A experienced an average of 37 to 46 percent fewer impacts than players on teams B and C. For example, the average player on team A experienced 158 impacts during the season, compared to 294 and 251 on the other two teams.

This can be attributed to several factors, but the primary reason was that team A had fewer practices during the season than teams B and C, the study showed. During games, impact frequency and acceleration magnitudes were not significantly different among the teams.

In addition, team A competed in a league that had implemented Pop Warner rule changes, including a limit on contact during practice sessions. Teams B and C had no such restrictions.

Although the practice contacts were limited, there were no differences in the head acceleration magnitudes measured in the games between all three teams. The 95 percent head accelerations ranged from 41 g to 45 g for all three teams and were not significantly different. These data show that limiting contact in practices does not create an adverse effect in games.

"It is striking that you can cut head impacts for a player in half just by modifying practice, and it does not seem to change the game," said Alexander Powers, M.D., assistant professor of neurosurgery at Wake Forest Baptist and co-author of the study. "This may be very important in kids where brains are developing."

Coaching style also had a major influence on factors such as the types of drills used in practice and the plays called in games, which would likely contribute to the differences in the head impact exposure that players experienced, the authors reported.

"We hope that the findings will help improve the safety of through rule changes to limit contact in practices, coach training and equipment design, especially in developing youth-specific helmets to better reduce accelerations from head impacts," Rowson said.

Explore further: Scientists develop new way to measure cumulative effect of head hits in football

Related Stories

Scientists develop new way to measure cumulative effect of head hits in football

July 18, 2013
Scientists at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center have developed a new way to measure the cumulative effect of impacts to the head incurred by football players.

New study shows most youth football player concussions occur during games, not practice

June 6, 2013
Sports-related concussion has been referred to as an "epidemic" by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Emergency department visits for concussions have increased 62% between 2001 and 2009. Despite the lack of ...

Youth football head impact study published

February 22, 2012
Wake Forest University School of Biomedical Engineering and Sciences (SBES) announces the first ever publication with data on head impacts from youth football players. The paper is published in the Annals of Biomedical Engineering ...

Virginia Tech announces 2013 football helmet ratings: One more added to the 5 star mark

May 15, 2013
Virginia Tech released today the results of its 2013 adult football helmet ratings, designed to identify differences between the abilities of helmets to reduce the risk of concussion. A total of four helmets achieved a 5 ...

Virginia Tech biomedical engineers announce child football helmet study

October 18, 2011
Virginia Tech released today results from the first study ever to instrument child football helmets. Youth football helmets are currently designed to the same standards as adult helmets, even though little is known about ...

Running backs take hardest hits to the head, linemen take the most

September 7, 2011
Thousands of college football players began competing around the nation this past week, but with the thrill of the new season comes new data on the risks of taking the field. A new study reports that running backs and quarterbacks ...

Recommended for you

Study shows probiotics can prevent sepsis in infants

August 17, 2017
A research team at the University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Public Health has determined that a special mixture of good bacteria in the body reduced the incidence of sepsis in infants in India by 40 percent at ...

Children who sleep an hour less at higher risk of type 2 diabetes, says study

August 15, 2017
A study has found that children who slept on average one hour less a night had higher risk factors for type 2 diabetes, including higher levels of blood glucose and insulin resistance.

Low blood sugars in newborns linked to later difficulties

August 8, 2017
A newborn condition affecting one in six babies has been linked to impairment in some high-level brain functions that shows up by age 4.5 years.

Can breast milk feed a love of vegetables?

August 4, 2017
(HealthDay)—Want your preschooler to eat veggies without a fuss? Try eating veggies while you're breast-feeding.

Small drop in measles vaccinations would have outsized effect, study estimates

July 24, 2017
Small reductions in childhood measles vaccinations in the United States would produce disproportionately large increases in the number of measles cases and in related public health costs, according to a new study by researchers ...

At the cellular level, a child's loss of a father is associated with increased stress

July 18, 2017
The absence of a father—due to incarceration, death, separation or divorce—has adverse physical and behavioral consequences for a growing child. But little is known about the biological processes that underlie this link ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.