CIPT helped fund an important study that was recently
published in the Annals of Biomedical Engineering and comprised 111 youth
football players ages 6 to 18 – the largest ever conducted. Numerous studies in this area have
been done on high school and college players, but those findings do not
necessarily apply to younger players.
The researchers at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center and
Virginia Tech found that contact in practice, not games, was the most
significant variable when the number and force of head impacts incurred over the
course of a season were measured. They concluded that less contact during
practice could mean a lot less exposure to head injuries for young football
Media coverage of the study included:
New York Times
For more details about the study:
“Though more than 70 percent of the football players 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 Sciences and senior author
of the study.
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.
“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 because their brains are still developing.”
The researchers used instrumentation in players’ helmets
to gather data throughout a season of youth
football games and practices. The sensors were installed inside the helmet so that they remained in contact with the head throughout the
duration of head impact, allowing for measurement of head acceleration rather
than that of the helmet. Data from the sensors were transmitted wirelessly to a
computer on the sideline.
The key finding was that substantial differences existed among the
three teams for both frequency and intensity of the impacts. 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.
“We hope that the
findings will help improve the safety of youth football 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.
The primary reason for experiencing less impacts was that team
A had fewer practices during the season than teams B and C.
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.
ultimately like to understand how these repetitive head impacts may affect the
brain over the course of a season, career, or even a lifetime of football so
that we can better determine how we can reduce head impact exposure and keep
kids safe,” said Jillian
Urban, a graduate student that participated in
More research and continued funding of this project is
necessary to find answers and fully understand the risk to youth players.
Co-authors are Jillian Urban, M.S., Joseph Maldjian, M.D., ChristopherWhitlow, M.D., Alexander Powers, M.D., Joel Stitzel, Ph.D., ElizabethDavenport, B.S., of Wake Forest Baptist; Stefan Duma, Ph.D., Steven Rowson,Ph.D., Bryan Cobb, M.S. of Virginia Tech.