Concussion Management in the NFL: 2011

Concussions are the hot topic in the NFL, as it is with every level of modern-day athletics.  If an athlete in any sport has an opportunity to have his/her head impacted in any way, chances are that head injuries are a concern.

Sunday night’s game between the Atlanta Falcons and the Philadelphia Eagles showcased the interaction between one of the game’s most dynamic players and the dreaded “C word”.  Eagles’ QB Michael Vick left the game with a concussion after a blow to the head.  Philly’s Head Athletic Trainer Rick Burkholder and his staff are exceptionally qualified to manage his injury.

Michael Vick is not alone with many of his fellow pro ballplayers suffering from concussions during this new 2011 season.

What is the NFL doing to manage concussions?  Let me show you what the NFL medical staffs are doing to protect our players with concussions.

Appreciating the Seriousness of Head Injuries

First of all, it’s important to stress how serious the NFL views concussions.  The NFL league office and all the individual team medical staffs work extremely hard to learn from leaders within the concussion medical community and utilizing the latest advances in concussion management to protect our athletes.

I’m proud to part of the process that has taken great strides in improving all areas of concussion care for athletes at all levels of athletics.  We clearly understand the responsibility that we have at developing a sound concussion model that will immediately impact the manner in which younger athletes will be treated with concussions.  That role is not taken lightly, nor should it be.

Making the Right Call

Here are some of the key steps that the NFL has implemented over the past two years to improve the prevention and treatment of concussions in the NFL:

  • Mandatory educational concussion seminar and conference calls for NFL medical staffs.
  • The formation of the Head, Neck and Spine Committee that continues research all factors related to head and spine injuries for players in the NFL.
  • On-field rule changes to protect vulnerable players.
  • Reinforced the protective medical philosophy towards concussions: “When in doubt, leave them out”.
  • Mandatory involvement of a neutral concussion specialist before any concussed player is allowed to return to play.
  • In-depth documentation for all head injuries is reinforced for individual clubs.
  • Baseline neuropsychological testing to allow for comparative test after a player has suffered from a concussion.
  • Educational posters, in-services, memos and handouts for players, coaches and medical staffs related to the signs and symptoms of concussions, risks factors and resources for additional information related to concussions.
  • New sideline assessment examination to assist in the testing for any player showing signs of a concussion during a game.
  • Implementing the new Madden Rule, where any player who is diagnosed with a concussion must leave the field and be allowed to relax in the team’s athletic training room and away from the noise of the field.

Caring for Craniums, Young & Old

When it comes to football injuries, concussions have changed the game of football.  Today’s medical community understands that and is continuing to take on the challenges facing the management of this injury.  In my opinion, I think the NFL has done an outstanding job of embracing the role of setting the standard that others are watching closely when it comes to concussion management for our youth.  From all levels of the NFL and our medical affiliations, everyone involved with the care of our athletes is willing to work together to improve all aspects of this medical problem.  From the equipment to the pre-concussion baseline testing to the evaluation of a concussed player to the return-to-play protocol, we all know how important the “big picture” is to the health of an athlete.

Everyone in the sports medicine profession realizes that we have a considerable amount of work to do when it comes to concussions.  With that being said, we’re excited about the wonderful advances still to be made which will better protect our athletes, young and old.