Over the past decade, there has been significant debate regarding the effect of cumulative subconcussive head impacts on short and long-term neurological impairment. This debate remains unresolved, because valid epidemiological estimates of athletes' total contact exposure are lacking. We present a measure to estimate the total hours of contact exposure in football over the majority of an athlete's lifespan. Through a structured oral interview, former football players provided information related to primary position played and participation in games and practice contacts during the pre-season, regular season, and post-season of each year of their high school, college, and professional football careers. Spring football for college was also included. We calculated contact exposure estimates for 64 former football players (n = 32 college football only, n = 32 professional and college football). The head impact exposure estimate (HIEE) discriminated between individuals who stopped after college football, and individuals who played professional football (p < 0.001). The HIEE measure was independent of concussion history (p = 0.82). Estimating total hours of contact exposure may allow for the detection of differences between individuals with variation in subconcussive impacts, regardless of concussion history. This measure is valuable for the surveillance of subconcussive impacts and their associated potential negative effects.
Keywords: subconcussive impacts; traumatic brain injury.