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Most Severe Head Hits Occur in Youth Football Practice, Study Finds

Concussion for Blog.jpg

A new joint Virginia Tech-Wake Forest study finds that, unlike in high school and college football, the hardest hits for youth football players typically occur during practice.

The findings of the study, published online in the Annals of Biomedical Engineering, raise questions about what drills coaches should expose players to during practice.

The researchers placed accelerometers in the helmets of seven football players, ages 7 and 8, and examined a total of 748 impacts that they endured over the course of one season. Roughly 60 percent of all head impacts occurred in practice.

Of the 38 high-level impacts (40 g's or more of force) examined, 29 of them happened during practice.

Preliminary findings from the study were released back in October, and suggested that the frequency of the most severe hits was substantially lower than in adult football.

According to the latest findings, however, youth football players did endure "high head accelerations in the range of concussion-causing impacts measured in adults."

This was the first-ever study to examine the impact of head hits in youth football, as opposed to high school or college football. Based on the finding that most of the severe head impacts occur in practice, the study authors suggest changing the structure of youth football practices to eliminate "high impact drills that do not replicate the game situations."

Instead, they suggest youth football coaches focus on "practicing fundamental skill sets needed in football at these young ages."

On the heels of this study's release, the Virginia Tech-Wake Forest University School of Biomedical Engineering and Sciences announced that they'd be conducting a new, wider-ranging study on concussions in youth football.

The new program, called the Kinematics of Impact Data Set (KIDS), will equip six youth football teams across Virginia and North Carolina with 240 accelerometer-laden helmets. Players in the study will be from ages 6 to 18.

"In 2011 we collected the first data on one team of youth football players. This new study for 2012 allows for dramatically increased sample size and head exposure mapping for all age groups," said Virginia Tech professor of biomedical engineering and project director Stefan Duma in a statement.

The researchers anticipate collecting data on over 50,000 head impacts in 2012 as a part of the new KIDS program.

Photo: Football players practice last year at Gilbert High School in Gilbert, Ariz. (Pat Shannahan/The Arizona Republic/AP-File)

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