The new study suggests concussions that arise from impacts to the top of the head are more likely to make young athletes lose consciousness.
Prior to this study, published in the journal Pediatrics, very little research had focused on how location of impact on the head could yield different concussion outcomes.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a concussion is a traumatic brain injury (TBI) that is the result of a bump, blow or jolt to the head that can change how the brain normally works.
To investigate further, researchers used data from the National High School Sports-Related Injury Surveillance Study to calculate rates and circumstances of concussions that occurred during football as a result of player-to-player collisions.
The team observed that most concussions of this type (44.7%) occurred on the front of the head, while 22.3% occurred on the side of the head. Based on where the impact occurred, the number and type of symptoms, symptom resolution time, and length of time before returning to play did not vary significantly.
But the data revealed that more football players whose concussions resulted from top-of-head impacts lost consciousness than those whose impacts were located elsewhere on the head.
In detail, 8% of players with top-of-head concussions experienced loss of consciousness, compared with only 3.5% of those with impacts on other areas.
'Heads up' tackling technique is safest
The researchers say top-of-head injuries were more likely to occur when players had their heads down during impact, which highlights the need for safe tackling techniques in football.
USA Football, the official youth football partner of the National Football League (NFL), have a "Heads Up Football" campaign, which seeks to "create change and address the complex challenges of player health and safety in youth and high school football."
The organization has put together a video detailing the safest way to tackle:
Commenting on the program, Dr. Gerard A. Gioia, pediatric neuropsychologist from Children's National Medical Center and associate professor at George Washington University School of Medicine in Washington, DC, says:
"This overall approach and the specific techniques within the program are exactly the next steps we need to take to improve head safety in tackle football. The effort to teach effective, yet safe tackling and blocking techniques at the earliest youth levels can only have positive downstream benefits for our players at the high school, college and professional levels."
Concussions 'are not a bruise to the brain'
According to the CDC, emergency departments in the US treat 173,285 sports- and recreation-related TBIs each year. This includes concussions among adults and adolescents from birth to 19 years old.
They note that children and teens are more likely to experience a concussion and take longer to recover from such an injury, compared with adults. Unlike a broken bone or other injuries that can be felt with the hand, a concussion disrupts how the brain actually works.
"It is not a 'bruise to the brain,'" say the CDC.
Though symptoms of concussion usually show up directly after the injury, the full effect may not be immediately noticeable, so coaches and parents should be aware of the signs and symptoms, and should not encourage young athletes to keep playing after a blow to the head.
The CDC have created free tools for coaches, parents, athletes and health care professionals, which provide vital information on how to prevent, recognize and respond to a concussion. For more information, visit the CDC's Injury Prevention & Control website.
Earlier this year, Medical News Today reported on a study that suggested football helmets may do little to protect players from concussion. Results of that study revealed that football helmets only reduce risk of TBIs by 20%, compared with not wearing a helmet.