Oct 28, 2015
Pediatricians Outline Football Recommendations

Football has been a topic of discussion at the 2015 American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) National Conference and Exhibition in Washington, DC this week. One session featured the introduction of the AAP’s policy statement on tackling in youth football, while another involved a study documenting a reduction in concussions after a state put a limit on the number of full contact practices.

Released ahead of print in the AAP’s journal, Pediatrics, the policy statement details the risks inherent to tackle football and outlines several recommendations for decreasing the risk of injury, especially concussions. The first calls for proper enforcement of current rules governing contact to the head. The statement says many concussions and other serious injuries result from improper and illegal contact.

“There’s too many head-to-head hits and leading with the head, known as spearing—that’s been against the rules since 1976 and for some reason referees and coaches have gotten away from enforcing that rule,” Dr. Greg Landry, co-author of the recommendations and a member of the AAP Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness, told CBS News.

The statement also recommends that athletes weigh the risk of injury against the benefits of playing the sport and called for the expansion of non-tackling leagues, even for ages when tackling is allowed. The statement made no firm recommendation about when athletes should be allowed to start playing full contact football. It notes that delaying the introduction of tackling will result in fewer injuries in younger age groups, but it’s not known whether first being exposed to tackling at an older age, when players are bigger and faster, would result in an increase in the number and severity of injuries. It does recommend that coaches offer proper instruction in tackling techniques as well as teach the skills needed to evade and absorb tackles.

The statement also says that strengthening the neck will likely reduce the risk of concussion and that athletic trainers should be present at all games and practices. While noting that further research is needed into long-term health effects of subconcussive blows, the statement supports the efforts to reduce the number of impacts to the head that occur during football participation.

This belief is backed by a study released during the conference that examined the effects of new contact limits introduced by the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association before the 2014 high school football season. According to an article on healio.com, the new rules barred full contact practices during the first week of practice, and limited them to 75 minutes the second week and 60 minutes per week thereafter. Researchers, led by Timothy A. McGuine, PhD, senior scientist for the Sports Medicine Center at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, examined injury data from 2012 through 2014 and found that concussion rates during practices were nearly twice as high in 2012 and 2013 compared to 2014. The overall rate of football-related concussions dropped from 1.57 per 1000 exposures to 1.28 per 1000 after the rules were implemented.

“This study confirms what athletic trainers who work with high school football programs have long believed regarding the association of full contact drills or practices and the likelihood a player will sustain a concussion,”  McGuine said in a press release. “This is probably also true for other football injuries such as sprains, fractures and dislocations.”

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