Cumulative Subconcussive Impacts in a Single Season of Youth Football Not Associated With Declines in Neurocognitive Measures

Cumulative Subconcussive Impacts in a Single Season of Youth Football Not Associated With Declines in Neurocognitive Measures 1024 575 Abbie Roth

In an investigation of head impact burden and change in neurocognitive function during a season of youth football, researchers find that sub-concussive impacts are not correlated with worsening performance in neurocognitive function.

Each year, more than 3 million children in primary and high school play tackle football in the United States. Growing concern about the possible negative effects of repetitive sub-concussive head impacts led to an increased number of physicians and parents who counsel against youth participation in full-contact sports.

A research team, led by Sean Rose, MD, pediatric sports neurologist and co-director of the Complex Concussion Clinic at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, followed 112 youth football players age 9-18 during the 2016 season in a prospective study.

“When trying to determine the chronic effects of repetitive sub-concussive head impacts, prospective outcomes studies are an important complement to the existing retrospective studies,” says Dr. Rose. “In this study of primary school and high school football players, a battery of neurocognitive outcomes tests did not detect any worsening of performance associated with cumulative head impacts.”

The pre- and post-season assessments used to measure outcomes included:

  • Neuropsychological testing
  • Symptoms assessment
  • Vestibular and ocular-motor screening
  • Balance testing
  • Parent-reported ADHD symptoms
  • Self-reported behavioral adjustment

Sensors placed in the helmets recorded sub-concussive head impacts during practices and games. Researchers added the impact g-forces to yield a cumulative impact measure. According to the study, cumulative impact did not predict changes (from pre-season to post-season) in any of the outcome measures.

Additionally, Dr. Rose notes, having sustained one or more concussions prior to entering the study was not associated with worse pre-season testing.

In their secondary analysis, they found that younger age and reported history of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) predicted score changes on several cognitive testing measures and parent-reported ADHD symptoms. Additionally, a reported history of anxiety or depression predicted changes in scores of symptom reporting.

“We expected repetitive impacts to correlate with worsening neurocognitive function, but we found that sub-concussive head impacts sustained over the course of a single season were not associated with neurocognitive functional outcomes. And also surprising, sustaining isolated high g-force impacts was also not associated with worse outcome,” says Dr. Rose. “The lack of a significant association may reflect the need for longer follow up – so we are continuing to follow kids across multiple seasons.”

This publication is the first analysis in a four-year prospective cohort study. Dr. Rose will be presenting data from the second year of the study at the upcoming Child Neurology Society meeting in mid-October. The team is currently collecting data for a third year.

 

Reference:

Rose SC, Yeates KO, Fuerst DR, Ercole PM, Nguyen JT, Pizzimenti NM. Head impact burden and change in neurocognitive function during a season of youth football. The Journal of Head Trauma Rehabilitation. [Epub ahead of print.]

Image credit: Adobe Stock

About the author

Abbie Roth, MWC, is a passionate communicator of science. As the managing editor for science communication at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, she shares stories about innovative research and discovery with audiences ranging from parents to preeminent researchers and leaders. Before coming to Nationwide Children’s, Abbie used her communication skills to engage audiences with a wide variety of science topics. As a subject-matter expert, she developed content for science education materials for McGraw-Hill Education, bringing science concepts to life for middle and high school aged students. She also provided technical editing for manuscripts spanning the American Chemical Society journal portfolio, in addition to serving as production lead for ACS Synthetic Biology. Abbie earned her BS in Life Sciences at Otterbein University while working at the Tan & Cardinal newspaper and minoring in Public Relations. She is a Medical Writer Certified®, credentialed by the American Medical Writers Association.