Across the country, schools have adopted regulations dictating what happens to young football players after they are believed to have experienced a concussion. But, many schools and sports organizations have also been adopting new tackling rules and training programs in hopes they can prevent concussions entirely.
According to new data released at the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine’s Specialty Day in San Diego, these programs may not be able to eradicate concussions in football, but they may at least reduce the risk.
A team of researchers, led by Director of Athletic Injury Research, Prevention, and Education, Ellen Shanley, Ph.D., say consistently using a tackling education program can reduce concussion severity and risk in youth football programs.
“Our study showed that the risk of a concussion in high school football athletes was 1.4 times lower from schools that utilized the Heads Up tackling education program than those who were not trained to utilize the techniques,” said Shanley.
To test the effectiveness of the tackling education programs, the team monitored 2,514 high school students throughout the 2015 season. Before the start of the study, at least one coach from the 14 schools involved received the Heads Up training from USA football, and ten of the schools used the standard training.
The researchers used random monitoring to assess if proper coaching technique and instruction were performed by the athletic staff and ensure compliance. Athletic trainers for each school were also tasked with monitoring and recording injury information during all practices and games for all schools involved in the study.
The researchers say all athletes included in the study received primary care from providers within the same large health network which used the uniform concussion clearance standards.
Over the course of the study, 117 concussions were recorded by athletic trainers. Those who were trained using the Heads Up program sustained 75 concussions compared with 45 from the non-Heads Up teams. These injuries represent a concussion rate of 4.1 per 100 players for the Heads Up athletes compared to 6.0 for non-Heads Up athletes.
The researchers also note the Heads Up group returned to play 27% faster than those not trained by the program.
“The results of our study seem to suggest that possibly less severe concussions were occurring with the Heads Up group which could be a significant hurdle to learning about and preventing concussions in youth football and keeping kids active,” said Shanley. “With this being the first paper to evaluate the impact of this type of training program on the incidence and recovery of concussion, we hope to do additional research with a larger data pool to continue to build insights.”
It will take more time and research to prove programs like these can observably reduce the risk of serious brain injuries on the football field, the early data is promising.