NFL avoiding the rush of the injury blitz

By Etheria Modacure

The final game clock ran out, the confetti  flew and the Vince Lombardi trophy  returned home to Green Bay. Yet another  NFL season has finished with the Packers as its new champions.

Behind the aftermath of the NFL’s 92nd season is a pressing problem prevalent in  football and all heavy-contact sports—injuries and how to diagnose them proficiently.

Injuries are part of sports, and learning how to efficiently deal with these setbacks has the NFL looking for solutions to

concussions, foot and ankle injuries and cardiovascular disease.

The NFL recently launched a new website,,which gives details on medical research, lists health committees and information on injury prevention.

“Player safety is the first priority of the NFL,” said Paul Hicks, executive vice president of communications and public affairs for the NFL. “It’s absolutely essential to the players and the future of the game.”

Hicks said judgments were made based on the trend in injuries throughout the past few years to put player safety at the forefront of the league.

“We just want an emphasis on player safety and those return-to-play issues,” Hicks said. “We’re also cognizant of the fact that we have a large footprint and what we do tends to be followed by the college level, high school level, down to youth football.”

On the NFL’s health and safety website, there are also studies done by doctors from across the country detailing the effects of ankle sprains, muscle healing, sleep-disordered breathing and the prevalence of cardiovascular risk factors.

There are two committees devoted to helping the league and medical personnel take the necessary steps to researching the effects of concussions, accelerated heart rates, hypertension, sleep apnea,  using proper safety equipment and brain and spine injuries.

The Head, Neck and Spine committee, established in 2010, is the successor to the Mild Traumatic Brain Injury committee. This committee has six subcommittees, which range from the development and management of prospective database for NFL players to return-to-play issues.

The Injury and Safety committee has three subcommittees: foot and ankle, cardiovascular health and medical grants. The Injury and Safety committee was founded in 1993.

According to Hicks, the committees are in place so Commissioner Roger Goodell and all 32 NFL team owners can receive pertinent data relevant to player safety. Additionally,  researching methods will be provided that can help bring new equipment to the pinnacle of professional football.

“The feeling was one medical committee was too broad to cover the specialized nature of the game,” Hicks said. “We try to get the very best specialists in the field who have an interest in football, who are superb physicians or researchers and people who want to participate in the process and lend their expertise.”

Most of the doctors involved with conducting research on football players send their studies to the NFL to help them make keen evaluations on risk factors amongst players.

Other than having health committees, the NFL also issues $1.5 million medical grants to qualified physicians and scientific institutes to help support research endeavors.

The University of California, San Diego is one of the scientific institutes to receive a medical grant from NFL Charities.

Dr. Roland Lee, a physician at UCSD, was on a team of doctors who compiled research to study the integrated imaging approach with magnetoencephalography, a technique for mapping brain activity, and diffusion tensor imaging to detect mild traumatic brain injury.

“One thing in particular our project can address is how do you actually diagnose traumatic brain injury?” Lee said. “How do you actually determine that there has been traumatic brain injury?”

Lee said in the past, a simple MRI or CT scan would show some forms of TBI with blood clots in the brain where tissue has been damaged.

“Most of the guys with concussions don’t actually have blood [clots] in their head, so the scans look normal,” Lee said.“Just because the scans look normal doesn’t mean the guy is normal. Concussions don’t have abnormalities on [these] scans.”

UCSD’s study used comparisons made between military personnel and civilians who were in car accidents or suffered from some form of traumatic brain injury. What’s hard to diagnose is when someone has a mild traumatic brain injury because the injuries often aren’t visible when using a conventional MRI or CT scan.

Lee said it’s great that UCSD can do a scan to find any abnormalities when suffering from a concussion with MEG.

“Even though the MRI is normal, the brain waves are not normal. We can tell if something has happened with that patient or not,” Lee said. “The problem with these athletes is they’ll play no matter what.”

With the NFL enacting a new rule stating a player must be cleared by an outside physician before returning to play when suffering from a concussion, there is a committee devoted to issues relating to getting  athletes back on the field.

The subcommittee on return-to-play issues is led by Dr. Margot Putukian, head team physician for Princeton University and physician representative of the NCAA.

With some players wanting to return to action despite having suffered a concussion, Putukian listed a few essential treatment options before getting back out onto the football field.

“Treatment for concussions for the most part is physical rest, cognitive rest and a gradual return to activities,” she said.

Putukian said issues with returning to play varies from the NCAA and the NFL and within the college ranks; it’s vastly different with each college or university.

Having an immense amount of available research, studies and health committees, football in North America is progressing into the future to ensure player safety and educating owners on injuries.

“That’s not the standard in the NFL, and it’s certainly not the standard in NCAA football,” Hicks said.  “We’re trying to change the standard to make sure the return-to-play guidelines are in place. It can’t do anything but help because people are much more sensitive to the effects of head injuries or other injuries.”