Studying head injuries in young football players
With increasing fears of concussions in sports, the Virginia Tech-Wake Forest University School of Biomedical Engineering announced plans for a new study—Kinematics of Impact Data Set (KIDS)—to track exposure of youth football players for head impacts.
As part of the KIDS study, the first of its kind to look at the full age spectrum of 6 to 18, six youth teams in Virginia and North Carolina were equipped with special helmets that have sensors inside to measure and transmit data for study. The KIDS study continues research Virginia Tech undertook in 2003 with its college football team to understand head impacts and their relation to concussion. Research in the field led to the first safety rating system ever available for adult football helmets.
It is anticipated that more than 50,000 head impacts will be recorded during the KIDS project, with the goal not just to improve youth football techniques and helmets. A secondary goal, to move toward improved head protection in other sports as well as advancements in automobile, safety already under way through the Virginia Tech-Wake Forest University School of Biomedical Engineering.
Joel Stitzel, PhD and professor of biomedical engineering at the School of Medicine, said the research is crucial.
“One of the reasons we need to do this research is that we don’t have a diagnostic threshold. We don’t know beyond a certain threshold when a trainer needs to take a look at a player or whether a player is going to get a concussion when a certain type of impact is experienced.”
The new study builds off an initial, small 2011 study of youth football players by Virignia Tech that indicated many high-level impacts occur during practice, and that 7- to 8-year-olds experience such impacts at near the severity associated with concussions in adults.
“That was pretty shocking news,” Stitzel said. “We don’t think younger players experience severe impacts as often as older players, but most people didn’t think kids could hit that hard. The biggest question we have is, ‘What are the long-term consequences of those impacts?’”
Youths involved in the study get MRI tests of their brains before the season and afterward, and researchers videotape each practice and game to review the circumstances of particular impacts.
“One of the things I’m most excited about is the imaging,” Stitzel said. “We hope that this study will lead eventually to having a diagnostic type of MRI scan that could definitively identify brain changes serious enough to advise a player to sit out. The key to reducing or preventing head injuries in the future is a better understanding of the biomechanics of the head impacts the players are experiencing.”