To determine the association of repetitive subconcussive head impacts with functional outcomes in primary and high school tackle football players.
Youth football fields and an outpatient sports neurology clinic.
A total of 112 primary school (n = 55, age 9-12 years) and high school (n = 57, age 15-18 years) football players.
A prospective cohort study.
Helmet-based sensors were used to record head impacts during practices and games during the 2016 football season. Impact g-forces were summed to yield a measure of cumulative impact. History of self-reported premorbid medical diagnoses was obtained preseason. Players completed assessments of a variety of outcomes both pre- and postseason: neuropsychological test performance, symptoms, vestibular and ocular-motor screening, balance, parent-completed attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) symptoms, and self-reported behavioral adjustment.
Average cumulative impact was 3700 (standard deviation = 2700) g-forces for the season and did not differ between age groups (P = .594). Cumulative impact did not predict pre- to postseason change scores on any outcome measures (all P > .05). Instead, younger age group and reported history of premorbid ADHD predicted change scores on several cognitive testing measures and parent-reported ADHD symptoms, while reported history of premorbid anxiety and depression predicted change scores on symptom reporting.
In youth tackle football, subconcussive head impacts sustained over the course of a single season may not be associated with neurocognitive functional outcomes. The absence of a significant association may reflect the relatively short follow-up interval, and signals the need for studies across multiple seasons.