Click here to submit your sports results for The Canberra Times

NFL: Concussions drop 13 per cent but headaches far from over

Show comment

The National Football League said Thursday that the number of concussions suffered in games and practices - a major health concern for players - dropped 13 percent in 2013 from the year before.

But officials admitted that much more remains to be done to reduce the number of traumatic head injuries in the sport.

Figures released three days before the Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos meet in Super Bowl 48 show concussions in pre-season and regular season games and practices fell from 261 in 2012 to 228 for the 2013 season.

"Rule changes, culture changes and the enforcement of the rules and elimination over time of dangerous techniques is leading to a reduction in concussions," said NFL vice president Jeff Miller.

"We are pleased with the direction but there still remains much to do. Culture change takes time. Education takes time. This is a shared responsibility (between the league and players) and we hope for this trend to continue."


"The game can be safer," Miller admitted.

Concussions have become a major injury concern for the NFL, which agreed to pay $765 million to retired players to settle concussion-related health claims.

But US District Judge Anita Brody has denied preliminary approval of the settlement, saying it might not be nearly enough to cover 20,000 retired players.

Injury figures have been studied in depth over the past three seasons. The drop last year coincided with rule changes aimed on punishing players who hit rivals with their helmets.

Concussions in regular-season games fell from 176 in 2012 to 151 in 2013.

In all, concussions caused by helmet-to-helmet contact fell from 117 in 2012 to 70 last year, a drop of 23 percent. While no longer the cause of more concussions than all other causes combined, it remains the reason for 48.7 percent of NFL concussions.

Concussions have become a major injury concern for the NFL, which agreed to pay $765 million to retired players to settle concussion-related health claims.

Matthew Matava, team physician for the St. Louis Rams, took issue with the idea that doctors hired by teams have a vested interest in pushing players to return to the field even if they might not be ready, saying it would not help to have a neutral party paying such doctors.

"Our goal is the health and safety of the players," he said. "There has been no pressure on me to get a player back onto the field. The same controversial issues are going to come up no matter who pays the salary of the doctor."

Doctors are armed with a new mental acuity concussion test that players must pass before returning to a game or to active duty during a practice week.

But they have found players trying to hide concussions in the past in order to play, with Denver receiver Wes Welker -- forced to sit out last month after a concussion -- even saying this week that he would do anything to play in the Super Bowl.

"We have always argued the team physician should be the final one to decide," Matava said. "I have told players I'm doing this for their own health and while I'm doing that I'm taking his helmet so he can't run back on the field."

Players have final say over all surgeries and can have a team-paid second opinion from an outside physician on any team doctor's decision, but Miller says the new concussion testing will be useful.

"It makes the ability to hide a concussion less likely than it might have been," Miller said.

"There is nobody here declaring this is the end of the road in taking head injuries out of the game. It's a partnership with players to identify the injury and treat it appropriately."

Mitchel Berger, a San Francisco neurologist and chairman of the NFL head, neck and spine committee, said new medicines were being tested to give an indication of mental trauma that until now could only be discovered during autopsies of the brain.

"The goal here is to come up with some identifying paradigms for concussion injury," he said.


1 comment