Quora Question: How Do Football Players Stay Safe?

Football-hits
Repeated sub-concussive hits appear to cause short-term visual changes, a new study shows. Erich Schlegel-USA TODAY Sports via REUTERS

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Answer from Keck Medicine of USC, 500+ internationally renowned doctors at a leading academic medical center:

If you play sports, most likely you have experienced an injury. What you may not realize is that rules designed to keep you safe impact the way the game is played—and these rules are constantly evolving. In the early days, rule modifications in any given sport occurred slowly, usually to accommodate technological improvements in equipment. Today’s rule changes often reflect scientific finds centered around keeping the players safe.

James E. Tibone, MD, Moss professor of sports medicine, professor of clinical orthopaedic surgery, and Seth C. Gamradt, MD, director of orthopaedic athletic medicine and associate professor of clinical orthopaedic surgery at the USC Department of Orthopaedic Surgery at Keck Medicine of USC both work with USC athletes and other major sports teams like the New York Giants and the Los Angeles Dodgers, Lakers, Kings and Rams and make ongoing recommendations for player safety based on the injuries they treat.

Most notably, their expert opinions carry the most weight with direct-contact sports like football and soccer, where concussions are common.

“It is hard to prevent concussions completely, but you can teach your athletes how to tackle correctly and not to lead with their head,” Tibone says. This emphasis on prevention throughout the NFL and NCAA led to new rules about helmet-to-helmet contact. Subsequently, the number of head trauma cases decreased.

“Interestingly, players would rather have a concussion than a knee injury. When they blow out their knee, they can not play for a year. With a concussion, they figure that they will recover, but they do not understand the long-term effects,” Tibone explains. That is when the physicians step in—to overrule players and coaches when health and safety might be jeopardized.

The down side is that protecting players from one injury can lead to injury in other areas. No longer allowed to hit high, football players are aiming low, spurring an increase in knee injuries, including the dreaded ACL tear. “New rules in football have probably caused more knee injuries because players are not allowed to hit high,” says Tibone.

Rule changes have also affected the amount and intensity of practice. Physicians caution against “overuse,” which leads to tendinitis and shoulder problems. “Most baseball injuries, especially in youth sports, occur from overuse,” Tibone says. “Here in California, kids play year-round. They hurt their arms. Overuse is also common for runners, recreational swimmers and volleyball players. In football, they have cut back on the number of contact practices in full pads, so we are seeing a lot less injuries at practice than we did 10 years ago.”

So what does this mean for all of us amateur athletes? Play by the rules, avoid overdoing it, do not push yourself beyond your limits and you will lessen your risk of sports injuries. Schedule a sports physical to determine whether it is safe for you to play a sport.

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