Posted on: March 15, 2016
Football season is still months away, but concussion concerns in the sport are in the headlines year round.
Recently, a new study found that tackling methods that protect the head may be increasing the risk of leg injuries. However, the findings don’t reveal an actual link—just an association. And there may be other explanations for this unsettling news.
In the study, researchers at the University of Iowa in Iowa city tracked NCAA football-related concussions and other injuries for five years. During the period of the study, teams were instituting new protocols and rules that encouraged leading with the shoulders rather than the head, protecting defenseless receivers, and banning horse collar tackles (in which a player is pulled down by the shoulder pads at the neck).
Unfortunately, no change in concussions was noted over the five years; even worse, leg injuries rose from 9 per 1,000 tackles or collisions to 13 per 1,000.
The researchers speculate that the new focus on lower body tackles may be leading to the increase in leg problems, but I believe there may be other explanations for the findings in this study.
Athletes continue to get stronger, bigger and faster. Collisions thus take place with much greater force, and this alone could cause more leg injuries, regardless of tackling techniques.
Another potential issue is that many college football programs are limiting the amount of live tackling and contact during practices. This could lead to de-conditioning of athletes: If they’re unaccustomed to full contact, they could be more susceptible to lower extremity injuries during games.
Finally, it’s important to understand that concussions don’t always occur with head-to-head contact. They also happen when the head hits the ground, collides with an opponent’s knee, or in an incidental collision with a teammate.
More research needs to be done to better understand concussion concerns. In the meantime, the best way to prepare players at all levels—from Pop Warner to the NFL—is to make sure they’re well conditioned to handle the speed and impact of competitive play. Hopefully, as tackling and training methods improve, we’ll see a decline in both concussions and leg injuries.
For more information or to request an appointment for concussion rehab please call 914.458.8700 or request an appointment online.
by Victor Khabie, MD, FAAOS, FACS, Chief of Department of Surgery, Co-Director of the Orthopedic and Spine Institute, Chief of Sports Medicine, Northern Westchester Hospital, Mount Kisco, NY