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Helmets equipped with sensors will help Prof. Erik Swartz test his training method to help reduce high school football head injuries. Photo- Tory Wesnofske- UMass-Lowell

Head Injuries In High School Athletics

MADISON- According to data gathered from a study conducted over two separate years concussions and recurrent concussions across all sports in high school athletics have gone down in recent years. The data was furnished by the journal Pediatrics.

The interesting findings within the data is football leads the occurrences of concussions, but not far behind were the sports of soccer, ice hockey and cheerleading.

A recent athletic training method has shown to reduce head injuries in high school football and was provided through an $800,000 grant to the University of Massachusetts-Lowell researcher who designed the new system.

Players who practiced tackling and blocking drills during practices without wearing helmets experienced a 26 to 33-percent decline in head impacts during games by way of teaching the players to avoid hitting with their heads at the first point of contact.

“While a helmet is required for full-contact practices and games, repeated training in tackling and blocking without wearing a helmet reinforces techniques that leave the head out of contact,” said UMass-Lowell Professor Erik Swartz, chairman of the Department of Physical Therapy and Kinesiology College of Health Sciences.

When asked if the new technique had been included in their practice routines, the head coaches of all four local high schools in the immediate Madison area indicated they do not utilize the training technique. Although, James Clemens does use the “helmet guard or “guardian cap” during many of its practices as the safety device is a soft-shell cover over the helmet engineered for impact reduction of up to 33-percent.

“Our study was the first to use a randomized controlled trial design, which means we used a control group that helps to ensure that other factors did not influence the results,” Swartz said. “Other tackling and blocking trainings exist but they’ve never been studied scientifically to see if players reduced their head impacts as a result of the training.”

The mounting public concern about the injuries has occurred with the onslaught of former athletes developing long-term and sometimes deadly repercussions from the earlier impacts. Many of the former athletes have also suffered from dementia and depression due to the concussions they suffered while in their playing years.

Overall, the data gathered showed the three sports with the highest concussion rates were- 1. Football (10.4 concussions per 10,000 athlete exposures), 2. Girls’ Soccer (8.19), 3. Boys’ Ice Hockey (7.69). For those examined specifically in practice, the highest rates were- 1. Football (5.01), 2. Cheerleader (3.6), Wrestling (3.12).

Cheerleading was the only sport that had a higher rate in practice than in competition.

In 2015, all 50 states adopted some form of concussion protocol, including minimum guidelines for return to play for those suffering a concussion. The Alabama High School Athletic Association has in place concussion protocol including limiting the days of full contact work for football players.

“Our overall goal is to see if this learned behavior of tackling and blocking without leading with the head will continue when athletes go back to wearing helmets during full-contact practice and games,” said Swartz. “We have more work to do, but the signs are very encouraging that we can change player behavior.”

The change in players behavior will have to begin with the coaching staffs of our locals schools. New training techniques may certainly improve the safety of the sports that so many youth participate in and use as a way through a good education.

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