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In recent years, a spotlight has shone brightly on the epidemic of head injuries in the NFL. Responding to the reality of the serious, long-term effects of traumatic brain injury, the NFL changed its concussion treatment policy.
A review of the NFL injury report quickly displays the pattern. Going into week 5, there were five listed NFL players with concussions, and going into week 6, another five (with only one overlapping player). Then week 6 saw several crushing helmet-to-helmet hits, with three new concussions already confirmed and likely more to be formally announced in the coming days. In a two-week period, that makes at least 12 concussions.
The NFL's vice president of football operations announced today that the league may make immediate rule changes and start suspending players for such hits -- a harder-punishment-will-soften-the-blows-theory.
The NFL's policy changes of 2009 were also a step in the right direction. There is an expanded list of symptoms, such as memory loss, headache, and imbalance that, if demonstrated on the sidelines, would preclude a player's return to the field. But these must be strictly adhered to over any players' "put me in coach" protestations.
The policy further states that a player "should not be considered for return-to-football activities until he is fully asymptomatic, both at rest and after exertion," and after evaluations from both team and independently consulting physicians. Again, this undoubtedly represents a positive and progressive step.
But a study in the November 2009 issue of the journal Neurosurgery, examined the effect of a 'symptom-free waiting period' on clinical outcome and risk of repeat injury after sport-related concussions.
The findings suggested that observing a "symptom-free" period post-injury was not an intrinsic factor in preventing repeat concussions. However, of those that did have repeat concussions, 80% occurred within 10 days of the initial injury.
This finding could have implications for the NFL. A minimum rest period, and not just being symptom-free, should become enforced management policy.
To its credit, the NFL is no longer ignoring this problem. But as long as hard hits are part of the fabric of the game, a mark by which players' toughness is measured, one rule change will not be enough. As much as fans might protest, a game change is what any good doctor would order.
Dr. Matthew Prowler
October 19, 2010; 12:30 AM ET
Dr. Matthew Prowler
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Posted by: ArmchairGM | October 19, 2010 3:08 AM
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