NEW YORK – The NFL announced that reported player concussions in the 2018 regular season were down 29 percent from the previous year.
The league said there were 135 documented concussions in that span, down from 190. Including the preseason, concussions fell from 281 to 214, a 23.8 percent decrease. That total was the lowest since the 2014 season, when 206 concussions were reported.
The figures included the number of incidents in both games and practices.
The NFL made the announcement Thursday inside its offices in Midtown Manhattan with the release of its 2018 health and safety report.
“It’s a significant decrease, and one that we’re pleased with,” NFL executive vice president of health and safety Jeff Miller said. “But we’re also more interested in why that decrease happened, as opposed to what the number is. That’s the sort of work we need to roll up our sleeves and do between now and the (NFL scouting) combine.”
Though the NFL’s medical staff cautioned about drawing sweeping conclusions from the data released Thursday, Miller told USA TODAY Sports that “no question” the tweak that requires the kicking team during kickoff returns to be stationary until the ball is kicked and a rule that prohibits any player – offensive or defensive – from initiating contact with their helmets significantly impacted the incidence of brain injuries.
“The number went down and this is a real and measured impact,” said Dr. Allen Sills, the NFL’s chief medical officer. “It’s not simply mathematical chance. But it’s also not a reflection that we were any less vigilant in looking for concussions. In fact, we did more negative concussion screenings than we have ever done. We did four screenings to detect every one concussion. Or to say it in other terms, 75 % of our screenings were negative.”
The league is optimistic that a shift in the use of helmets that performed best in concussion testing also helped contribute to the overall decrease of reported concussions in 2018.
In Week 17 of the 2017 regular season, 41 percent of the league’s players wore the better-performing helmets. In the regular-season finales this year, however, that number increased to 74 percent.
Baltimore Ravens team orthopedic surgeon Dr. Leigh Ann Curl called the push for players to wear the better-performing helmets a “meaningful shift.”
Both the league and the NFL Players Association participate jointly in the helmet testing procedures.
“As we like to say, while we’re pleased with the fact that concussion numbers are down, and down significantly this year, when it comes to the health and safety of our players, there’s no finish line,” Miller said. “This is a multi-year process. We’ll keep at this and we’ll try to figure out why these changes happened, and we’ll try to figure out where we set goals and there’s still room for improvement.”
The league also announced that while anterior cruciate ligament tears went up from 54 in 2017 to 57 this season, medial collateral ligament tears combined dropped from 143 last season to 131 this year.
The league also indicated that it will experiment for the first time with mouth guards containing sensors that will help gather more data. Miller said the league helped develop the sensors and that the University of Virginia football team used them this past season “with positive results.”
Miller said the NFL will look at testing the mouth guards on “probably four teams,” though that would not include every player in those groups. He stressed that it is a trial and that the sensors aren’t being treated as diagnostic devices but rather equipment used to gather more data. The sensors are designed to measure frequency, magnitude, and direction of impacts the players experience.
By Lorenzo Reyes
January 24, 2019