On-Field Measurement of Head Impacts in Youth Football: Characterizing High Magnitude Impacts and Assessing Balance Outcomes
The research presented in this thesis focuses on head impact exposure in youth football. The on-field portion of this research investigated high magnitude head impacts that youth football players experience in games and practices. With previously validated data collection methods, linear and rotational head accelerations from head impacts were collected. Over the course of two seasons, 79 total player-seasons resulted in over 13,000 impacts. A small subset of these, 979 impacts exceeding 40 g, represented the focus of this research as these impacts pose the greatest risk of injury to individuals. Some tackling drills in practice were found to have higher acceleration severities than those observed in games. How practice activities are conducted also contributes towards the overall high magnitude head impact exposure for practice, not just the practice drill itself. Within games, players who are running backs and linebackers played most frequently and experienced higher magnitude impacts more often than their teammates. Data were also collected from all players off the field. Each player completed balance assessments at the beginning and end of the season to allow for comparison, even in absence of a clinically-diagnosed concussion. Current balance assessments were observed to fall short for detecting postural control differences in this youth population. Modifications to these assessments were recommended that might allow for further insights. Research presented in this thesis will inform youth football organizations as they continue to develop strategies to enhance player safety and mitigate head impact exposure.