Heads Up: College Football Head Impact Stats

Head impacts varied in college football players between practice and games

Head injuries can sideline football players in a hurry. But how common are head injuries among college players really?

A new study from the University of Virginia (UVA) that followed college football players for an entire season of practices and games found that as the intensity of activity rose, so did the number of head impacts.

A special in-helmet device was used to tally the number and severity of head impacts among the players.

"The results of the paper are actually very intuitive, but unlike the proactive approach of the NFL, the [National Collegiate Athletic Association] has been waiting for data to support their evolving football guidelines and regulations," said lead study author Jason Druzgal, MD, PhD, a professor of radiology at UVA, in a press release. "The results of our study start to provide some of that data."

A blow or jolt to the head can cause a concussion (a type of traumatic brain injury). Concussions can also occur from a blow to the body that causes the head and brain to move rapidly back and forth.

This sudden movement of the brain can cause serious damage and make the brain more vulnerable to future damage.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), even minor head trauma can cause serious damage to the brain.

Repeated minor traumas can also be just as damaging as a single major trauma, according to the CDC.

Dr. Druzgal and team looked at 890 head impacts in 16 players to compare the intensity of practice to the number of head impacts.

Practices were categorized according to the amount of protective equipment the players wore. Games were considered to have the highest level of intensity, while helmet-only practices had the least.

As the intensity increased, so did the number and severity of head impacts.

According to these researchers, the average college football player sustains more than 1,000 head impacts in a single football season.

This study was published in the August issue of the Journal of Neurosurgery.

The University of Virginia and the National Institutes of Health funded this research. The xPatch impact sensors were provided by the manufacturer X2 Biosystems. No conflicts of interest were disclosed.