May 2, 2017
Thumbs Up for Heads Up

Heads Up Football was started by USA Football in 2012 as an attempt to make the sport safer by educating coaches about topics like concussion recognition and response, heat preparedness and hydration, equipment fitting, and proper blocking and tackling technique. Since then, the program has expanded to more than 7,000 youth and high school teams. There is continuing debate over its effectiveness, but a recent study showed that high schools participating in Heads Up may be more successful at preventing concussions.

The research, which sought to determine the efficacy of Heads Up, was presented at the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine’s Specialty Day in March. Twenty-four high schools in Greenville County, S.C., were involved in the study, which included a total of 2,514 football players. Fourteen of the schools (1,818 athletes in total) had at least one coach receive Heads Up training. At the remaining 10 schools (616 athletes in total), coaches performed standard training and football practices. Data was collected during the 2015 football season.

In total, 117 concussion injuries were determined to have occurred at the schools involved in the study. Of these, 75 occurred in athletes at schools with Heads Up training, while 42 occurred in athletes at schools without Heads Up training. The concussion rate for athletes at Heads Up schools was 4.1 percent, compared with six percent for athletes at non-Heads Up schools. In addition, the findings suggest that Heads Up training might have helped reduce the severity of concussions that occurred.

“This is the first study to examine the Heads Up Football Program vs. non-Heads Up Football Program training in a high school football cohort, and Heads Up tackling reduced concussions by up to 40 percent in the upstate of South Carolina,” John Tokish, MD, study co-author from Steadman Hawkins Clinic of the Carolinas, said in his presentation, which was reported on by “In addition, they were less severe, with a 27 percent faster return to full play [with] clearance by a standardized protocol.”

There is continuing debate over the effectiveness of concussion education, but this study points directly at the value of programs like Heads Up. The findings indicate that when football teams take the extra steps to learn about concussion recognition and implement safer protocols, they are able to reduce the amount and severity of head injuries.

“Football remains a dangerous game,” Dr. Tokish said as he summarized the results. “But proper education may help it to become more safe.”

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