In the ongoing battle against the potential lifelong brain damage caused by concussions from contact sports, especially football, the 2012–2013 football season is seeing many changes in the amount, and type of contact allowed in the sport.
From the NFL to pee-wee, doctors, youth organizations and league officials are making efforts to not only improve the treatment of concussions when they occur, but to greatly reduce the risk altogether.
In one particular youth league, “the 2012 season will have reduced contact in practice,” says Dr. Julian Bailes, co-director of the NorthShore University Neurological Institute and chairman of the Pop Warner Medical Advisory Board. Pop Warner is the nation’s oldest and largest youth football league. This summer, the organization announced a rule that limits the amount, and type, of contact allowed in practice.
“Sixty percent of concussions occur in practice,” Bailes says. The new rule states that the young athlete can only practice one-third of the total practice time, with linemen being the only exclusion. Bailes says it’s too early in the season to tell whether the reduced contact is making any difference. “We’re monitoring it, and we’ll have a look after the season,” he says.
Helmets and pads are one way to protect the player, but more needs to be done. “There are good helmets, but no helmet [design] is concussion proof,” says Bailes.
With many professionals coming forward with cases of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a neurodegenerative disease caused by repetitive trauma to the head, including former Bears quarterback Jim McMahon, the idea that a player can just walk-off a hard hit is no longer an option.
Bailes says they’re planning on doing a study at the end of the year to see how this new method is embraced and how the sport has changed. “We haven’t changed the rules of play, just the rules of practice.”