NEW YORK (AP) The NFL Thursday released data showing decreased injuries in the league this season, including concussions.
Emphasizing that players are doing more self-reporting of head injuries, the league reported that overall concussions for the preseason and regular season were down from 275 in 2015 to 244 in 2016, including a drop of 16 in regular-season games to 167.
The number of concussion in 2015 was at a five-year-high, with a 69 percent increase from the previous season’s numbers. Since then the NFL enhanced its detection and examination protocols.
“What we have to account for, too, are the additional protocols involved and the people involved in recognizing the injuries,” said Jeff Miller, NFL Executive Vice President of Player Health and Safety. “We have seen a significant culture change on those points,” he said – including players themselves or teammates identifying what they suspect could be head injuries.
“The point of all of this,” said Miller, “is the effort to identify the concussions when they happen so players can get the treatment as quickly and comprehensively as they can. That is why we spend so much time on the protocols.”
Dr. Robert Heyer, president of the NFL Physicians Society and Team Internist for the Carolina Panthers, cited the players’ willingness to report injuries as making a major difference in the numbers.
“I have been a team physician [for] 22 years, and in the past three years I think we’ve seen a cultural change regarding concussions,” Heyer said. “As result of ongoing education, players are more likely to speak up if they believe they might have a concussion. I know what we are doing is making a difference, but we must continue to do more.”
One unaffiliated neurological consultant said his interactions with players on the sidelines have changed.
“When we started the program, there was a significant amount of resistance from the players in terms of just being evaluated,” Dr. Mitchel Berger said. “But now, I would say uniformly this past season, none of the players ever resisted. They are much, much more aware of the whole concussion situation and want to actively be engaged in the interview process on the sideline as well as in the locker room. They really are much more aware of and interested in their safety.”
A rule change regarding player safety — moving the ball to the 25-yard line on touchbacks — had little effect on diminishing head injuries, merely decreasing the number of concussions from 20 to 17. That information will be presented to the league’s competition committee for evaluation, NFL executive Miller said.
The NFL and the National Football Leagues Players Association worked with the health information research company QuintilesIMS in gathering the data.
The statistics also showed decreases in knee injuries from 2015 to 2016. Also of note was a lack of conclusive evidence of more injuries in Thursday night games. The Thursday injury rate was less than from games played Saturday, Sunday and Monday.
“Injuries don’t increase when teams have a shorter preparation time,” said Christina Mack, a director with QuintilesIMS.