SUNDAY, Oct. 24 (HealthDay News) -- Concussions in professional
football have been a hot topic of late: Just last week, the
National Football League announced it would begin suspending
players for illegal and dangerous hits that often result in head
Now, a new 12-year study of NFL data suggests that in recent
years, players have been sidelined significantly longer after
concussions than they were in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
The study, by former members of the NFL's Mild Traumatic Brain
Injury Committee, compared injury and treatment statistics from two
consecutive six-year periods (1996 to 2001, and 2002 to 2007) and
found the average number of days that players were sidelined after
a concussion more than doubled.
"Our study clearly shows that NFL physicians adopted a more conservative approach to concussion management in the second six-year period," said the study's lead author, Dr. Ira R. Casson, a neurologist at Long Island Jewish Medical Center in New Hyde Park, N.Y.
Casson and his co-authors compared these two consecutive
six-year periods and looked at the circumstances of the injury, the
patterns of symptoms, and a player's time lost from NFL
participation. The researchers found that the average number of
days lost from a concussion increased from 1.92 days during
1996-2001 to 4.73 days during 2002 to 2007. Significantly fewer
concussed players returned to a game in which they were injured
from 2002 to 2007, compared to 1996-2001, and 8 percent fewer
players returned to play in less than a week. That number jumped to
25 percent for those players who lost consciousness during the
The study authors said there were a number of possible
explanations for the findings, including an increase in concussion
severity, greater willingness of players to report their symptoms
to medical staff, and team medical staffers adopting a more
conservative approach to managing concussions.
The researchers also found that in the later time period, there
were fewer documented concussions per NFL game overall, especially
among quarterbacks and wide receivers. But there was a significant
increase in concussions among tight ends.
Casson said the increased rate of concussions among tight ends
may have something to do with how the game has evolved over the
years. "Tight ends are being used less as blockers and more as pass
receivers, so they're running down the field at higher speeds and
are more prone to being involved in significant head collisions,"
Dr. Gail Rosseau, a neurosurgeon at Northshore University Health
System in suburban Chicago and a spokeswoman for the American
Association of Neurological Surgeons, said she was encouraged by
the study findings, which are "at odds with the impression that the
general public has when they open up the newspaper every day, and
there seems to be yet another story about football players and
"What's happening today is that there's an increased recognition of the problem, and there's an evolution in the culture at every level of play that's allowing and even encouraging players to self-report when they have symptoms," said Rosseau.
"Football is a game that three million young Americans love to play, and so we're not talking about doing away with the game completely," noted Rosseau, who is also the mother of a high school freshman who's been playing football for seven years. "But as neurosurgeons we want to do everything we can do to make it as safe as possible."
The study is published in the November/December print issue of
To learn more about concussions, visit the
U.S. National Library of Medicine.