The Wake Forest University Center for Injury Biomechanics has been working with the Childress Institute for Pediatric Trauma for the past two years, going on our third. In that time, they have provided us with $500,000 to perform a pilot study to collect head impact data, as well as medical imaging data from 147 youth and high school athletes. We have collected data on thousands of head impacts and medical imaging data on a scale that has never been done before which led to a grant from the National Institutes of Health worth $3.5 million to continue this study for the next five years.The focus of our study is on football but there are many opportunities to study head injuries in other sports, helmeted and non-helmeted, as well as in boys and girls.
Previous researchers, like myself, have studied professional and college football for the past 10 years. There are only 2,000 NFL players and 100,000 college football players. However, that is just the tip of the iceberg. There are approximately 1.3 million high school football athletes and 3.5 million youth athletes. What is so important about this age group is that we have a large number of youth athletes in the age group, but most importantly, there is a lot we don't know about this age group that is learning, growing, and developing so one of the questions we are asking is - what happens to the brain of a young athlete if they have had 100, 500, or even 1,000 impacts over the course of one football season?
We commonly think of exposure when we are talking about sun exposure. We can apply this concept to head impacts where the concussion is a single bad event, similar to a sun burn, and a season or lifetime of impacts is analogous to a lifetime in the sun. Much of the focus has been one really bad concussion over the past 10 years, however, the question at hand is what has a greater effect on the brain: the high impact concussion or a season or even lifetime of repetitive head impacts.