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Focus on Football Injuries as School Starts


School football practice begins even before school starts, and so now is the time for parents, coaches, and other involved adults to help ensure young players avoid football injuries. The American Association of Neurological Surgeons (AANS) is making awareness of such injuries a focus of Neurosurgery Outreach Month.

Football Injuries

According to Gail L. Rosseau, an AANS spokesperson and a neurosurgeon in the Chicago area, an estimated 300,000 football-related concussions occur each year in the United States, “and nearly 45,000 football-related head injuries were serious enough to be treated at US hospital emergency rooms in 2009.”

In recent months, there has been a growing amount of attention given to football injuries, especially head injuries and concussions, and health problems. The helmet-to-helmet hit and concussion suffered by Miami Dolphins quarterback Pat White happened not long after the National Football League (NFL) formed a concussion and brain injury committee to investigate the impact of such injuries.

In a study ordered by the NFL, for example, it was discovered that the incidence of memory problems and dementia such as Alzheimer’s disease is significantly more common among its players, including a 19-fold higher rate among men ages 30 through 49. Although this report focuses on head injuries, countless numbers of knee and shoulder injuries, dislocations, tears, sprains, fractures, and other serious problems occur each year as well.

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Although the AANS is focusing on younger players, injuries at middle and high school levels can be equally serious and lay the groundwork for future problems. Yet most serious head and neck injuries can be prevented, says Mitchel S. Berger, MD, AANS vice president and a member of the NFL Head, Neck and Spine Medical Committee, “if players, parents and coaches take injury prevention and concussions seriously.”

Berger emphasizes that “football players who have sustained a concussion need to be withheld from play until all physical and neuropsychological symptoms and signs related to that concussion have resolved and they are cleared to return to play through an independent healthcare professional.”

Statistics for young players from the 2009 football season show nine brain injuries that resulted in incomplete recovery, and all nine were at the high school level. Overall, at the high school level, 10 to 15 percent of athletes who participate in a contact sport experience a concussion, yet only a fraction receive proper treatment.

Football Injury Prevention Tips

The AANS urges parents, coaches, and players to consider the following tips:

  • All players should undergo a preseason physical exam, and any individual who has a history of brain or spinal injuries should be identified
  • Football players should receive preconditioning and strengthening of their head and neck muscles
  • All players’ equipment should fit properly, especially the helmet, and straps should always be locked.
  • Coaches and their entire staff should be prepared for a possible catastrophic spinal cord injury and know what to do should such an injury occur
  • Players should be discouraged by coaches and officials from using the top of their football helmets as battering rams

Parents, players, and coaches need to focus on preventing football injuries as practice continues and school starts. For more information on sports-related injuries and how to prevent them, you can visit the AANS website.

American Association of Neurological Surgeons