Whap to the Head No Matter the Age

Concussion rate among youth football players similar in high school and college athletes

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) When it comes to football, age doesn't protect an athlete from a concussion. Football practice and play still poses risks for head injury no matter the age.

The number of concussions that occurred among child football players was similar to that of high school and college athletes, a recent study found.

At the same time, young athletes sustained more concussions during games than practices.

The findings also showed that the child football players, ages 8 to 10 years, were slightly less likely to get a concussion than 11- and 12-year-old athletes.

"Suspect a head injury? Get out of the game."

The aim of this study, led by Anthony Kontos, PhD, from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Sports Medicine Concussion Program, was to find out the risk of getting a concussion among youth football players.

The study included 468 child and pre-teen male football players on one of 18 teams in a non-scholastic youth tackle football league in western Pennsylvania during the 2011 youth football season.

The kids were between 8 and 12 years of age and did not participate in any other sport during the season, which ran from August to December 2011.

Athletes who previously had brain surgery or any concussions, traumatic brain injuries or neurologic or psychiatric disorders were excluded.

The researchers divided the athletes into two age groups (8-10 and 11-12 years of age) and tracked the number of concussions that occurred in each game and practice for each age group.

Players had 8,415 practices and 2,923 games combined within the season. During that time, two concussions occurred during practice and 18 occurred during the games.

In the 8- to 10-year-old age group, five diagnosed concussions occurred. At the same time, 15 concussions occurred in the older age group.

The researchers found that during practice, 2.4 concussions occurred for every 10,000 athletes. During games, 61.6 concussions occurred for every 10,000 athletes.

Head-to-head contact caused 45 percent of all concussions. Head-to-ground and head-to-body contact each caused another 5 percent of the concussions.

"We believe that youth football is a generally safe activity with regard to concussions for children aged 8-12 years, particularly during practice," the researchers wrote in their report. "However, similar to research on high school and college-aged athletes, age was associated with increased concussion incidence."

Because few concussions occur during practice, the authors said that reducing contact exposures, or the time spent in practice or during games, would likely have little effect on reducing concussion risk.

"Limiting practices in youth football may not only have little effect on reducing concussions but may also actually increase the incidence of concussions in games via reduced time learning proper tackling in practice," they wrote.

Instead, the researchers proposed that focusing on concussion awareness and education is a better approach to reducing concussions in youth football.

Athletes should be educated on how to safely tackle and rehearse this in practice, according to Dan Clearfield, DO, MS, a primary care sports medicine physician and dailyRx Contributing Expert.

"Practices are now being augmented so that there is less contact, which means that less concussions will occur in practice as a result," Dr. Clearfield said. "Well, that is great, but then they don't know how to properly tackle, so they are more likely to sustain a concussion in a game because of this."

Dr. Clearfield said that the football league involved with the study consisted of coaches who are primarily parents themselves and may not be aware of concussion signs and symptoms.

The researchers noted that their study size was small and involved only youth football players in western Pennsylvania. 

In addition, the study only looked at concussions that occurred during a single youth competition season. The concussions were not recorded by doctors and certified athletic trainers.

The study, funded by the National Football League Charities Medical Research, was published online June 6 in The Journal of Pediatrics. No conflicts of interest were declared.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
June 5, 2013
Last Updated:
August 7, 2013