New Data May Help Intercept Head Injuries in College Football 


February 24, 2021

Novel research from the Concussion Assessment, Research and Education (CARE) Consortium sheds new light on how to effectively reduce the incidence of concussion and head injury exposure (HIE) in college football.

The study, led by neurotrauma experts Michael McCrea, PhD, and Brian Stemper, PhD, professors of neurosurgery at the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee, reports data from hundreds of college football players across five seasons and shows concussion incidence and HIE are disproportionately higher in the preseason vs the regular season.

The research also reveals that such injuries occur more often during practices than games.

“We think that with the findings from this paper, there’s a role for everybody to play in reducing injury,” McCrea told Medscape Medical News. “We hope these data help inform broad-based policy about practice and preseason training policies in collegiate football. We also think there’s a role for athletic administrators, coaches, and even athletes themselves.”

The study was published online February 1 in JAMA Neurology.

More Injuries in Preseason

Concussion is one of the most common injuries in football. Beyond these harms are growing concerns that repetitive HIE may increase the risk of long-term neurologic health problems including chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).

The CARE Consortium, which has been conducting research with college athletes across 26 sports and military cadets since 2014, has been interested in multiple facets of concussion and brain trauma.

“We’ve enrolled more than 50,000 athletes and service academy cadets into the consortium over the last 6 years to research all involved aspects including the clinical core, the imaging core, the blood biomarker core, the genetic core, and we have a head impact measurement core.”

To investigate the pattern of concussion incidence across the football season in college players, the investigators used impact measurement technology across six Division I NCAA football programs participating in the CARE Consortium from 2015 to 2019.

A total of 658 players — all male, mean age 19 years — were fitted with the Head Impact Telemetry System (HITS) sensor arrays in their helmets to measure head impact frequency, location, and magnitude during play.

“This particular study had built-in algorithms that weeded out impacts that were below 10G of linear magnitude, because those have been determined not likely to be real impacts,” McCrea said.

Across the five seasons studied, 528,684 head impacts recorded met the quality standards for analysis. Players sustained a median of 415 (interquartile range [IQR], 190 – 727) impacts per season.

Of those, 68 players sustained a diagnosed concussion. In total, 48.5% of concussions occurred during preseason training, despite preseason representing only 20.8% of the football season. Total HIE in the preseason occurred at twice the proportion of the regular season (324.9 vs 162.4 impacts per team per day; mean difference, 162.6 impacts; 95% CI, 110.9 – 214.3; P < .001).

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