Study Says Helmet-Less Practices Can Reduce Football Concussions
Could practicing without one of the very first safety devices in football really cut down on head and spinal injuries?
New research published in the Journal of Athletic Training suggests that might be the case.
Based on first-year results of a two-year study, researchers at the University of New Hampshire say that helmetless-tackling drills proved effective in reducing head impacts by 28 percent in one season.
The study put the technique to the test among 50 football players at the University of New Hampshire, a NCAA Division I team.
Players were divided into two groups: an intervention group and a control group. Those in the intervention group performed five-minute tackling drills without their helmets and shoulder pads twice a week during pre-season, and once a week during football season. Drills consisted of repeatedly tackling into an upright pad, tackling dummy, or a teammate holding a padded shield. The control group performed non-contact football skills at the same time, rate, and duration.
The athletes wore a head-impact sensor behind their right ear to monitor the frequency, location, and acceleration of all the head impacts.
The theory behind the study is that players without helmets focus more on tackling in ways that reduce impact to their heads.
"The idea of taking off the football helmet during practice to reduce head impact may seem counterintuitive to the sport," said study leader Erik Swartz. "But the findings show that preventing head impacts, which can contribute to spine and head injuries like concussions, may be found in behavior modification like these drills."
High school football is responsible for 47 percent of all concussions sustained while playing sports, with 33 percent of them occurring during practice.
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