NATA study finds head impacts among high school football players greater than collegiate level

Contacts: Robin Waxenberg Ellen Satlof, NATA
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National Athletic Trainers’ Association (NATA) Study Finds Head Impacts Among High School Football Players Greater Than Collegiate Level

Coaches urged to teach proper tackling techniques, to reduce the risk of concussions and cervical spine injuries

DALLAS, July 15, 2009 – According to a new study published by the National Athletic Trainers’ Association (NATA), high school football players sustain greater head accelerations after impact during play than do college-level football players which can lead to concussions and serious cervical spine injuries. The report, “Head Impacts During High School Football: A Biomechanical Assessment,” which is published in the July 2009 issue of the Journal of Athletic Training, NATA’s scientific publication, urges coaches to teach proper tackling techniques, in order to reduce the risk of head and neck injuries among high-school athletes. To read the article in full, visit

NATA is a not-for-profit organization representing and supporting 30,000 members of the athletic training profession. The organization is divided into 10 geographic districts. District 3, which Baker will oversee, covers North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia.

High school athletes represent the single largest segment of football players in the U.S. and account for the majority of sport-related concussions. In a given year, between 4 and 6 percent of high school football athletes sustain concussions, corresponding to an estimated 43,200 to 67,200 injuries annually. According to the NATA study however, true injury incidence is likely much higher, since some research suggests more than half of high school athletes who get concussions are suspected of not reporting their injuries to medical personnel.

The NATA report hypothesizes that physical maturation and the associated neck strength and endurance of the high school athletes might explain the discrepancy between their collegiate counterparts. On average college athletes weigh 33 pounds more than high school athletes, but they stand only 1.2 inches taller, suggesting collegiate athletes have a more developed musculature system that is better able to control head motion after impact.

“The number of injuries occurring during high school football, where the disparity in medical coverage is the greatest, drives the need for a better understanding of head impacts among younger athletes,” said the study’s co-author, athletic trainer Steven P. Broglio, PhD, ATC, from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The most notable finding from this investigation was that the average change in speed the player’s head experienced following impact during games and practices exceeded that reported at the collegiate level across all session types including scrimmages, games and practices. The distribution of impacts -- and the magnitude of impacts -- across helmet locations also differed by the level of play. In college football players, blows to the front of the helmet were 10 percent less frequent and resulted in less force than in high school players. Conversely, impacts to the top and back of the helmet in collegiate athletes occurred more frequently, but with less force. Most concerning was the impact to the top of the head in high school athletes which yielded greatest force. “The increased impact intensity to top and back of the helmet likely elevates the risk of concussion and severe cervical injury,” Broglio said. “This finding highlights the need for coaching proper tackling techniques, such that the athlete keeps his head up and avoids contact with the top of the helmet.”

Methodology note

All varsity-level interscholastic football athletes from a single central Illinois high school (Class 3A) were recruited to participate in this study. The athletes were fitted with either a new or a 1-year-old helmet from the same manufacturer and a head impact monitoring system encoder was placed inside. Only 32 athletes wore a sensor-equipped helmet at any given time. Data were collected across an entire season of football participation, including all preseason practices, all regular-season games and practices, and all postseason games and practices. During the 2007 football season, data were collected across 68 sessions including 55 practice days and 13 games. A total of 19,224 impacts were included in the analyses.

National Athletic Trainers’ Association (NATA) – Health Care for Life & Sport: Athletic trainers are health care professionals who specialize in the prevention, diagnosis, treatment and rehabilitation of injuries and illnesses. The National Athletic Trainers' Association represents and supports 30,000 members of the athletic training profession. Only 42 percent of high schools have access to athletic trainers. NATA members adhere to a code of ethics. NATA supports the right of all patients to have equal access to the services of athletic trainers through the Athletic Trainers’ Equal Access to Medicare Act (H.R. 1137). Visit

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