When Are High School and College Football Players Most Likely to Sustain a Concussion?

A new study issued today in JAMA Pediatrics produced an interesting finding — concussions among high school and college football players are more likely to occur in practice, not during games. Researchers found that only 42 percent of concussions sustained by high school and college football players occurred during games; 58 percent of concussions were sustained during practice. In contrast, 54 percent of concussions among youth football players were sustained during games.

The data, gathered by Datalys Center for Sports Injury Research and Prevention Inc. in Indianapolis, looked at 118 youth football teams, 96 high school programs and 24 college programs between 2012 and 2014. Concussions were counted when players themselves reported the injury.

One reason the rate of concussions is higher during practice is that high school and college programs practice significantly more than youth football teams, creating more risk. Another reason is that high school and college teams have significantly more players than youth teams, meaning youth players likely spend more time on the field during games.

So, what can we do with this new data?

One idea that has already started to spread among programs at all levels is to limit contact during practices. NPR reports that the University of New Hampshire’s football team occasionally practices without helmets, limiting head-to-head contact. The school is currently studying whether or not the move will have any effect on concussion statistics.


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