According to a recent study published in JAMA Neurology, practises — not games — are far more responsible for head injuries (like concussions) in American football players.
The study followed American football programmemes at several NCAA Division 1 schools for five years. Over those five years, during which both practises and games were tracked for head injuries, researchers found that 72% of all concussions occurred during practise. In fact, most of the concussions and other head injuries occurred during practises in the preseason.
How Was the Study Conducted?
The JAMA Neurology study was a joint effort carried out by researchers at The CARE Consortium and several professors in neurosurgery at the Medical College of Wisconsin. CARE stands for Concussion Assessment, Research, and Education. It is a U.S. organisation that “endeavours to provide necessary infrastructure and scientific expertise to study concussion.”
The two groups worked in tandem to record data from six NCAA Division 1 schools’ football programmemes. 658 football players had sensors placed in their helmets during both practise and games. They were tracked over a five-year period from 2015 to 2019.
In the end, 68 players had concussions that were officially diagnosed as such by medical professionals. All in all, researchers recorded upwards of 500,000 head hits. On average, they found that every footballer had around 415 hits to the head each football season. Again, preseason practises accounted for nearly twice as many head hits as mid-season practises. Experts assume that these numbers actually underrepresent the actual head trauma that occurred within the group.
What Does This Mean for Football Players?
Experts agree that concussion in football can be extremely dangerous for players. Concussions are a form of traumatic brain injury or TBI. Bleeding and swelling in the brain can cause long-term, irreparable damage, and it may sometimes even be fatal.
Concussions in football that occur during practise do not have to happen. In fact, concussions should never happen, but those that occur during practise are especially difficult to accept. They should certainly be limited by coaches making the decision to reduce contact during practises.
Fortunately, in the United States, almost 40 states are realising the disparity between the prevalence of concussion in football games and concussion in practise. For this reason, they’ve started to drastically limit — or sometimes even ban — practises that utilise full-contact techniques.
The Ivy League has even gone so far as to completely get rid of full-contact play during practise. They took this initiative in 2016. Likewise, the NFL (National Football League) Players Association will only allow teams to have 14 practises involving full-contact play throughout the season. Ideally, these changes will help players avoid any type of traumatic brain injury, including concussion.
The Negative Effects of Concussion in Football Can Linger for a Lifetime
Football players who experience brain injuries — including concussions — during practise or games are far more likely to experience personality changes and future mental and emotional trauma later in life. For decades, this has been well-documented by medical professionals and the individuals who’ve had concussions themselves.
Sports like football are certainly not going away any time soon, and that’s also not the goal. However, because concussions tend to occur frequently during football practises and games, it is up to football coaches to begin implementing changes that will mitigate these terrible injuries.
Countless retired players have had to turn over their lives to the negative effects of the concussions they experienced during their careers. It’s time this vicious cycle ended, and players and their fans were able to enjoy the game of football without the prevalence of concussion.