UW partners with the NFL to research sport-related concussions

The University of Alabama, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and University of Washington are also involved in the study.
Published: Dec. 12, 2021 at 11:55 PM CST
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - Whether it’s an NFL player of someone who’s just getting started in the sport, every time an athlete steps onto the football field they’re taking a risk. While rules and practices have changed some over time, sport-related concussion is still a prominent issue in American football and there’s still a lot to learn about how it happens.

The NFL partnered with researchers at the University of Wisconsin to learn more about why sport-related concussions happen, and what they can do to prevent them. UW offensive/defensive lineman and tight ends were able to volunteer to be involved in the study which began in September and will run through spring practice.

Dr. Dan Cobian is a assistant professor at the UW Department of Orthopedics and Rehabilitation, and said they gave special mouth guards to participants and every time they have an impact on the field, the mouth guard will record the data.

“There’s a thin layer of sensors basically that are molded onto the very front of the mouth guard,” Cobian said. “That allows us to quantify the magnitude direction frequency of the head impacts that are experienced.”

Cobian said through the study he hopes to learn more about how different hits impact a player, and if their position could have any relation to their likelihood of getting a concussion.

“Is it magnitudes of a specific direction?” Cobian asked. “Like if a player is hit at a certain location is that more associated with concussion? Is it more the total magnitude of head impacts, or the total volume over the course of the season?”

Dr. Julie Stamm with the UW Department of Kinesiology, said according to the vast majority of studies, football is the number one sport for concussions.

“Most impacts in football they happen around that 20-25g magnitude or force of that impact,” Stamm said. “That’s about equivalent to crashing a car into a wall going around 30 miles an hour.”

Stamm said as more research comes out and medical professionals learn more about sport-related concussion, we could see rules and practices continue to change in the game of football.

“Maybe they have so many hits like a pitch count,” Stamm said. “We may have a hit count where they sustain so many hits today or this week we’re not gonna have them hit anymore this week,”

Stamm said she never wants to discourage anyone from playing sports because of the value they provide, but does offer a suggestion for parents who feel uneasy. She recommends having your child play flag football until at least middle school so they can avoid contact for as long as possible.

For further information on the brain and youth sports, Dr. Stamm wrote a book titled “The Brain on Youth Sports: The Science, the Myths, and the Future” which you can find on Amazon.

After the completion of the study, the data collected will be analyzed by the NFL Players Association’s independent engineering firm and affiliated consultants.

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