Safety Should Be the Goal for Football Players

WEDNESDAY Sept. 2, 2009 -- Football fans and players may be excited about the start of the season, but everyone wins if players manage to avoid head injuries, experts say.

In 2008, only cycling caused more sports-related head injuries than football, according to the American Association of Neurological Surgeons. And football is the third-leading sports-related cause for spinal cord injuries, after diving and cycling.

However, most serious injuries to the head and spinal cord can be prevented with the right equipment and good coaching.

While the sport still carries risks, advancements in safety equipment construction, such as properly fitted helmets and shoulder pads, and good coaching techniques taught from an early age have combined to dramatically reduce the number of serious football injuries.

High-velocity collisions between players, which can cause acceleration or deceleration of the head or the neck, are often associated with spinal injuries, according to information provided by experts in a news release from the American Academy of Neurological Surgeons.

"Most serious neurological injuries can be prevented by following a few safety measures," said Dr. Brian R. Subach, a Virginia-based neurosurgeon who is a team spine surgeon for the Washington Redskins. "Basic rules need to be followed and injury prevention taken seriously by the players, parents and coaches."

The experts offer these tips:

  • All players should undergo preseason physical exams, and those with a history of prior brain or spinal injuries, including concussions, should be identified. A concussion is an injury to the brain that is caused by a blow to the head, and in many cases of concussion, there are no external signs of trauma.
  • Strengthening and preconditioning of the head and neck muscles are extremely important for all football players.
  • Whether blocking, hitting, tackling or carrying the ball, all players should be discouraged from using the top of their football helmets as battering rams.
  • Players' equipment should be properly fitted, especially the helmet, and coaches, physicians and trainers should ensure that the straps are always locked.
  • Staff must know what to do in the case of a possible catastrophic spinal cord injury. Preparation could help prevent permanent disability.
  • To avoid helmet-to-helmet collisions, ball carriers should be taught to not lower their heads when making contact with the tackler.

More information

The U.S. National Library of Medicine has more on head injuries.

Posted: September 2009


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