September 23, 2016 • Sports Medicine

Limited-contact rules making a difference with concussions

Limiting contact during high school football practices was undoubtedly going to reduce head-impact exposure for athletes, but we were unsure just how much.

Now, we finally have an idea.

concussionsA new study published in the July edition of the Journal of Athletic Training examined what’s taking place in Michigan, where in 2014 the state athletic association adopted a rule that limited full-contact practices to no more than two days a week. Prior to that, there were no regulations on the number or duration of regular season contact practices, which many sports medicine professionals believe were a driving force behind the rise in concussions.

The two-year study found that the Michigan High School Athletic Association’s (MHSAA) new regulation resulted in a 42-percent decline in head impacts. Linemen experience the biggest drop (46 percent), followed by receivers, cornerbacks and safeties (41 percent).

“The study results reinforce the impact that rules changes can have on the players,” said Steven Broglio, PhD, ATC, lead author and director of the NeuroTrauma Research Lab in the School of Kinesiology at University of Michigan. “How this reduction influences concussion risk and long-term cognitive health remains unknown.”

A number of states in recent years have implemented restrictions on contact practices, including Ohio, New Jersey, Florida and California. Illinois, which approved its own contact rules last summer, places a 90-minute cap on contact for each week during the regular season.

The study noted that prior to the MHSAA rule change, prep football players averaged 592 head-impact exposures per season. That was reduced to 345 per player after the rule change.

A study published last year in JAMA Pediatrics found that 58 percent of concussions in high school and college sports occur during practices. That idea that most concussions occur outside of games is partly what led states to approve new rules that focused on the way teams practice.

Though the Michigan study does give promise to limited-contact rules, researchers behind it admitted that similar analysis must be done with other high school football programs.

Taking a closer look

A new study looks at the impact limited-contact rules are having at one Michigan high school. Sports medicine professionals hope the findings are indicative of what’s taking place across the nation.

Here are some of the study’s findings:

  • When full-contact high school practices are limited to no more than two days per week, head impacts declined 42 percent.
  • The decline varied by position, with linemen experiencing the largest reduction in head impacts.
  • The coaching staff and schemes were unchanged from prior to the rule’s implementation, so the limited-contact rule is likely responsible for the drop in head impacts.

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