Emergency Department Visits From 2014 to 2018 for Head Injuries in Youth Non-Tackle Football Compared With Other Sports

Orthop J Sports Med. 2021 Jan 29;9(1):2325967120975402. doi: 10.1177/2325967120975402. eCollection 2021 Jan.


Background: Non-tackle football (ie, flag, touch, 7v7) is purported to be a lower-risk alternative to tackle football, particularly in terms of head injuries. However, data on head injuries in non-tackle football are sparse, particularly among youth participants.

Purpose: To describe the epidemiology of emergency department visits for head injuries due to non-tackle football among youth players in the United States and compare the data with basketball, soccer, and tackle football.

Study design: Descriptive epidemiology study.

Methods: Injury data from 2014 to 2018 were obtained from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System database. Injury reports coded for patients aged 6 to 18 years and associated with basketball, football, or soccer were extracted. Data were filtered to include only injuries to the head region, specifically, the head, ear, eyeball, mouth, or face. Football injuries were manually assigned to "non-tackle" or "tackle" based on the injury narratives. Sports & Fitness Industry Association data were used to estimate annual sport participation and calculate annual injury rates per 100,000 participant-years.

Results: A total of 26,770 incident reports from 2014 to 2018 were analyzed. For head region injuries in non-tackle football, the head was the most commonly injured body part, followed by the face; the most common diagnosis was a laceration, followed by concussion and internal injury (defined as an unspecified head injury or internal head injury [eg, subdural hematoma or cerebral contusion]). The most common contacting object was another player. The projected national rate of head region injuries was lowest for non-tackle football across the 4 sports. In particular, the projected rate of injuries to the head for non-tackle football (78.0 per 100,000 participant-years) was less than one-fourth the rates for basketball (323.5 per 100,000 participant-years) and soccer (318.2 per 100,000 participant-years) and less than one-tenth the rate for tackle football (1478.6 per 100,000 participant-years).

Conclusion: Among youth in the United States aged 6 to 18 years who were treated in the emergency department for injuries related to playing non-tackle football, the most common diagnosis for injuries to the head region was a laceration, followed by a concussion. Head region injuries associated with non-tackle football occurred at a notably lower rate than basketball, soccer, or tackle football.

Keywords: concussion; epidemiology; head; injury surveillance; non-tackle football.