The key to reduce subconcussive head impacts in U.S. high school football is to look inside the practice drills and intensities, according to a new study by IU School of Education and IU School of Public Health faculty.
The study, recently published in PLOS ONE, is a continuation of research the cross-university team has done on subconcussive hits, or hits below the concussion threshold. The team used sensor-installed mouthguards and monitored magnitude and frequency of head impacts in 24 Bloomington High School-North football players throughout the 2019 football season. Researchers combined mouthguard data and film analysis to examine how many head impacts, and to what extent of magnitude, football players are experiencing during each level of contact, and whether there are differences in head impact exposure between various position groups.
The risk/benefit ratio of American football in adolescents has been debated over the past decade. “Some argue that football provides millions of kids opportunity to engage in physical activity while teaching the value of teamwork, comradery and respect, but others caution against the risks of concussion, subconcussive head impact exposure and potential long-term outcome”, said principal investigator Keisuke Kawata, an Assistant Professor at the School of Public Health.
Scientists, engineers and policymakers have come together to promote a safer football environment with countless rule changes and improvement in equipment. “These efforts seemed to reduce concussion risks and severe injury like skull fracture, but subconcussive impact exposure is not so simple,” Kawata said.
Having played football professionally and coached at various levels, Jesse Steinfeldt, a co-author of the paper and an Associate Professor at the School of Education, thought that head impact exposure may be tightly linked to the intensity of practice drills. Steinfeldt explained, “In 2014, USA Football, a governing body for amateur American football, categorized practice drills into five levels of contact ranging from air, bags, control, thud to live, where live is the highest intensity and air is the lowest. We were wondering whether this levels-of-contact guideline is influencing head impact exposure.”