The rate of sport-related concussions during high school football practice in Wisconsin decreased by 57 percent following a rule change limiting the amount and duration of full-contact activities during practice, according to a new study by researchers at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health.
Published online in The American Journal of Sports Medicine, the study examines whether new rules passed by the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association (WIAA) before the 2014 season reduced the rate of sport-related concussions compared to the previous two seasons. The rules prohibit full-contact activities during the first week of pre-season practice and limit full contact to 75 minutes in week two and 60 minutes per week (excluding games) in week three and beyond. The rules were among the first in the nation designed and implemented to reduce the incidence of sport-related concussions during high school football practice.
“Our analysis shows that targeted rule changes can have a beneficial effect on lowering the risk for concussions,” says Tim McGuine, distinguished scientist in the department of orthopedics and rehabilitation at UW Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health. “It’s imperative that we identify strategies that keep our student athletes safe while still maintaining the integrity of the game, and this particular measure appears to do both.”
A total of 2,081 high school football athletes enrolled and participated in the study in 2012-13 (before the rule change) and 945 players participated in 2014 (after the rule change). Players self-reported previous concussion and demographic information and athletic trainers recorded athletic exposures, concussion incidence, and days lost for each sport-related concussion. An athletic exposure during practice was classified as being full contact (full speed with contact); drill contact (full speed until contact above the waist, and the player is not taken to the ground); or no contact (no full or drill contact). Researchers found there were 15 sport-related concussions per 1,000 athletic exposures during practice in 2014 compared to 86 per 1,000 athletic exposures during the previous two years.
Opponents of the new rules argued that limiting contact during practice would lead to poor technique, ultimately increasing the risk of injury during competition. However, the data did not support that argument, with the rate of concussions in games during the 2014 season remaining the same as it was before the rule change.
Other researchers on the study include Drs. Adam Pfaller and Alison Brooks, both with the UW Department of Orthopedics and Rehabilitation, Division of Sports Medicine; and Scott Hetzel, UW Department of Biostatistics and Informatics.