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Reduce Risk of Football Head Injuries

It has long been recognized that head injuries must be prevented to ensure future health, and throughout the years, governing bodies have worked toward reducing the number of injuries reported. Helmets have been required since 1939; new and more restrictive safety guidelines have been added periodically in the following years.

More recently, the risk of concussion has been highlighted. The NCAA estimates that concussions account for 7.4% of all football injuries and is actively working to reduce that number further. In this article, we highlight concussions and other head injuries, and offer some advice on how to prevent these injuries from occurring.

Head Injuries

Head injuries typically occur to football players in the most vulnerable parts of the head and face – primarily the mouth, eyes, and brain.

Mouth injuries come in a variety of forms, but are all typically due to sudden unexpected impact with either another player or the ground. Injuries could take the form of broken teeth, torn lips, cheek, gums, or tongue, and even the more serious dislocated or broken jaw.

Because of this wide variety of potential injuries, the American Dental Association urges the mandatory use of properly fitted football mouthguards in all sports involving bodily contact- including football. Mouthguards cover the teeth of at least the upper jaw and in some cases both the upper and lower. They reduce chipping and fractures of the teeth, protect vulnerable tissue from laceration by tooth edges, reduce the likelihood of fracturing the jaw, and provide protection for toothless spaces.

The eyes are also vulnerable and at risk for serious injury. In football, the greatest risk is from accidental (or in cases of particular animosity, intentional) gouging by the fingers of opposing players. Luckily, the protection afforded by rule changes making it illegal to intentionally place hands on the face and by the requirement of helmets with face guards greatly reduce the risk of serious eye injury. For added protection, some players choose to use a visor or eye shield.

Concussions have recently been making headlines as a brutal “hidden” injury in football. A concussion is a traumatic brain injury caused by a violent blow to the head. These injuries are especially common on the line, where huge defensive and offensive lineman make violent head-first collisions on almost every down. A concussion occurs when a blow shifts the brain and forcefully presses it against the skull. This injury may be accompanied by a variety of symptoms, including dizziness, nausea, memory loss, confusion, and terrible headaches. It has become a greater concern of late because of studies showing that repeated concussions may encourage dementia and depression as a result of chronic traumatic encephalopathy.

Unfortunately, with the violent nature of the game, it is difficult to prevent concussions. Leagues are taking steps to reduce the likelihood of these injuries, particularly through rule changes to reduce collisions with the head and more stringent protective gear requirements. At a personal level, it is important that every player makes sure his helmet fits properly and intentionally avoids situations that may result in a blow to the head.

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