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Preseason Poses Biggest Risk for College Football Head Injuries

TUESDAY, Feb. 2, 2021 -- Concussions and head impacts are most likely to occur in collegiate football players during the preseason and practices, according to a brief report published online Feb. 1 in JAMA Neurology.

Michael A. McCrea, Ph.D., from the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee, and colleagues used data from six Division I National Collegiate Athletic Association football programs (2015 to 2019). The analysis included 658 collegiate football players (mean age, 19.0 years) instrumented with the Head Impact Telemetry (HIT) System.

The researchers identified 528,684 head impacts during football practices or games, with players sustaining a median of 415 recorded head impacts per season; 68 players sustained a diagnosed concussion. Nearly half of concussions (48.5 percent) occurred during preseason training, despite preseason representing only 20.8 percent of the football season. Relatedly, twice as much total head impact exposure occurred in the preseason versus regular season (324.9 versus 162.4 impacts per team per day). For each season, head impact exposure per athlete was highest in the August preseason and lowest in November (median, 146.0 and 80.0 impacts, respectively). During the five seasons studied, nearly three-quarters of concussions (72 percent) and two-thirds of head impacts (66.9 percent) occurred during practices.

"These findings point to specific areas where public policy, education, and other prevention strategies could be targeted to make the greatest overall reduction in concussion incidence and head impact exposure in college football, which has important implications for protecting the safety and health of collegiate football players," the authors write.

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