Effect of a New Rule Limiting Full Contact Practice on the Incidence of Sport-Related Concussion in High School Football Players

person preparing to throw a football

Pfaller, Adam Y., MD Brooks, M. Allison, MD, MPH, Hetzel, Scott, MS, McGuine, Timothy A., PhD, ATC (2019 ). Effect of a New Rule Limiting Full Contact Practice on the Incidence of Sport-Related Concussion in High School Football Players The American Journal of Sports Medicine47(10), 2294–2299. https://doi.org/10.1177/0363546519860120

Background:
Sport-related concussion (SRC) has been associated with cognitive impairment, depression, and chronic traumatic encephalopathy. American football is the most popular sport among males in the United States and has one of the highest concussion rates among high school sports. Measured head impacts and concussions are approximately 4 times more common in contact practices compared with noncontact practices. The Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association passed new rules defining and limiting contact during practice before the 2014 football season.

Purpose:
To determine if the SRC rate is lower after a rule change that limited the amount and duration of full-contact activities during high school football practice sessions.

Study Design:
Cohort study; Level of evidence, 2.

Methods:
A total of 2081 high school football athletes enrolled and participated in the study in 2012-2013 (before the rule change), and 945 players participated in the study in 2014 (after the rule change). Players self-reported previous concussion and demographic information. Athletic trainers recorded athlete exposures (AEs), concussion incidence, and days lost for each SRC. Chi-square tests were used to compare the incidence of SRC in prerule 2012-2013 seasons with the incidence in the postrule 2014 season. Wilcoxon rank sum tests were used to determine differences in days lost because of SRC.

Results:
A total of 67 players (7.1%) sustained 70 SRCs in 2014. The overall rate of SRC per 1000 AEs was 1.28 in 2014 as compared with 1.58 in 2012-2013 (P = .139). The rate of SRC sustained overall in practice was significantly lower (P = .003) after the rule change in 2014 (15 SRCs, 0.33 per 1000 AEs) as compared with prerule 2012-2013 (86 SRCs, 0.76 per 1000 AEs). There was no difference (P = .999) in the rate of SRC sustained in games before (5.81 per 1000 AEs) and after (5.74 per 1000 AEs) the rule change. There was no difference (P = .967) in days lost from SRC before (13 days lost [interquartile range, 10-18]) and after (14 days lost [interquartile range, 10-16]) the rule change.

Conclusion:
The rate of SRC sustained in high school football practice decreased by 57% after a rule change limiting the amount and duration of full-contact activities, with no change in competition concussion rate. Limitations on contact during high school football practice may be one effective measure to reduce the incidence of SRC.

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Posted on BrainLine August 30, 2019. Reviewed August 30, 2019.