Frequency and Magnitude of Game-Related Head Impacts in Male Contact Sports Athletes: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis

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Background: Sensor devices have enabled estimations of head impact kinematics across contact sports. Objectives: To quantitatively report the magnitude (linear and rotational acceleration) and frequency of game-related head impacts recorded in male contact sports athletes. Methods: A systematic review was conducted in June 2017. Inclusion criteria were English-language in vivo studies published after 1990 with a study population of male athletes aged ≥ 16 years, in any sport, where athletes were instrumented with an accelerometer device for measuring head impacts. Study populations were not limited to players with a clinical diagnosis of concussion. Results: Twenty-one studies met the inclusion criteria with 12 conducted on American Football athletes. Six of these studies were included for meta-analysis. At a threshold of 10g, amateur rugby players sustained the most impacts per player per game (mean = 77, SD = 42), followed by amateur Australian Football (mean = 29, SD = 37) and collegiate lacrosse athletes (mean = 11.5, SD = 3.6). At thresholds of greater than 14.4g, high school American Football athletes sustained between 19 (SD = 19.1) and 24.4 (SD = 22.4) impacts per player per game. Statistically significant heterogeneity was observed among the included studies, and meta-analysis of impact magnitude was limited. Conclusions: The frequency of “head acceleration events” was quantified and demonstrated substantial variation in methodology and reporting of results. Future research with standardised reporting of head impacts and inclusion of non-helmeted sports is warranted to enable more robust comparisons across sports. Prospero ID: CRD42017070065.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1575-1583
Number of pages9
JournalSports Medicine
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2019

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