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How Common are Brain Injuries in American Football?

Posted on October 14, 2022 in Brain Injury

California, along with 19 other states, enacted laws to reduce the circumstances where football players under the age of 19 could sustain head injuries. These laws apply to all middle and high schools whether private, public or charter. The state of California took a proactive stand, as much as possible at the government level, to face the growing concern of school-aged football players sustaining head injuries.

This blog will focus on the pre-emptive actions of the state legislature and the prominence of injuries to young players. The purpose is not to discourage football, but to promote awareness.

What is CA AB 2127?

This assembly bill came into effect in January, 2015, to limit full-contact practices during in- and off-season. The intent of the law is not to regulate youth football, but to allow time for a player to heal before returning to the field for a game or practice.

The state legislature acted upon the prevalence rates of full concussions upon youth football players. Although the 3% rate estimated by USA Football sounds low, this percentage represents over 4,000 school-aged players in California estimated to suffer from concussions each year. The CDC published a recent report citing that more than 40% of high-school athletes return to practice or to a game too early for a head injury to heal.

As the law currently stands, full-contact practices can be held during the season, but these practices are limited to 90 minutes a day and cannot be held more than twice per week. Full-contact practices are prohibited during the off-season.

Further, if a middle- or high-school player is diagnosed with a concussion, or concussion-type symptoms, then the player must be benched for at least 7 days following the diagnosis. The diagnosis must be from a doctor or a licensed healthcare facility.

Brain Injuries and High School Football

Not surprisingly, American football has the highest concussion rate of any male contact sport. The Institute of Medicine has found that concussions among high school football players are more than double that of college players.

The state’s support of prevention programs is not about banning football. The prevention programs are about ensuring that all safety equipment, especially the helmets, fit properly and teaching the proper techniques of tackling to prevent helmet-to-helmet contact.

To supplement the on-field training, the programs also focus off the field by educating parents, coaches and the players to recognize, and bring awareness to, concussion-type symptoms.

The Symptoms of a Concussion

A traumatic brain injury can come in a mild form known as a concussion. Although concussions are prevalent in contact sports, concussions can occur from any strike to the head.

The symptoms, and their severity, differ with each person and from the uniqueness of the accident. The most common symptoms, though, are one or a combination of the following:

  1. mental fog or difficulty in remembering
  2. headaches
  3. no tolerance to a bright light or a loud noise
  4. slow or delayed reaction time
  5. vomiting or nausea
  6. mood changes
  7. change in sleep patterns

A person does not need to lose consciousness to be diagnosed with a concussion. The best remedy, outside of anything prescribed or recommended by a doctor, is rest and time to heal. It can take weeks or months for the symptoms to become apparent and to properly heal.

Without the proper time to heal, mild brain injuries can lead to permanent damage to cognizant and memory abilities.

The state legislature can only do so much to reduce the circumstances leading to concussions suffered by our young football players. It is the parents, the coaches and the organizations sponsoring youth contact sports that are the gatekeepers to the players’ health and safety.