A Boston University study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found CTE in 110 of 111 ex-NFL players. This alarming discovery was discussed heavily in the news and social media. Less publicized was the diagnosis of CTE in 3 of 18 brains from high school athletes. CTE, brain damage, and concussions tend to be associated with NCAA and NFL athletes, but this study indicates that even young players can suffer devastating consequences from head trauma.
In the United States there are over 3 million youth football players, accounting for 75% of total football players. Only .08% of players go on to compete in the NFL. Despite the prevalence of youth sports, research on concussions and brain injuries has largely focused on elite athletes.
The Department of Biomedical Engineering and Mechanics at Virginia Techaimed to better understand how young athletes are exposed to head impacts in football. The researchers outfitted two youth teams (age 9-12) with accelerometers to measure head impacts. The impacts were characterized based on:
● The position of the team member who received the impact
● The place on the field where the impact occurred
● The cause of the impact
● If the impact occurred during a game or practice
Of the 7590 measured head impacts, 571 were considered to be “high magnitude,” registering at 40 G’s or higher. The high magnitude impacts occurred more often in the open field, where quarterbacks, running backs, and linebackers typically play. High magnitude impacts occurred more frequently in games than practices.
The researchers theorized that athlete position, coaching style, and intensity of play were factors in head impacts. Steven Rowson (PhD) said “these studies are important because they allow you to make data-driven decisions. Purposeful reduction of exposure means less opportunity for concussions and a reduction in any potential consequences of cumulative exposure.”
Virginia Tech plans to continue studying head impacts in youth sports to help protect millions of young athletes and understand how and when brain injuries occur.