The NFL sees a significant drop in concussions during the 2018 season

The number of diagnosed concussions suffered by NFL players in 2018 decreased significantly, indicating that more effort this season, which included two widely discussed rule changes, could have contributed to the difference.

The figures, published by the league on Thursday, show a 24 percent decrease in concussions during the preseason and the regular season, from 281 in 2017 to 214 this season. The fall was particularly noticeable in the regular season, when the number of concussions diagnosed went from 190 in 2017 to 135 in 2018, a decrease of 29 percent. That means that the average team would suffer a concussion for one player every four games, while in 2017, once every three games.

This is good news after 2017, when the league was startled by an increase in concussion figures. However, medical officials in the NFL warn that it is too early to know what caused the change. The health and safety specialists of the league will spend the next weeks badyzing the data. By the time the league meets for the NFL Exploration Combination at the end of February, a clearer picture of what led to the decline should emerge.

"We are certainly pleased with the progress in reducing concussion," said Jeff Miller, executive vice president of health and safety for the NFL. "There's a lot more work to do."

The controversial rule to avoid helmet use to initiate contact was implemented the off-season in response to concussion data from 2017, and Competition Committee officials have admitted that its administration and compliance have been more complicated than expected . After the rule was applied closely during the preseason, which provoked criticism from players, coaches and fans alike, the execution seemed to decrease during the year. Rich McKay, the chairman of the Competition Committee, said at the end of the 2018 regular season that the offseason would be devoted to educating officials and teams about how the league wants the rule to be enforced. Changes were also made to the kickoff, eliminating, for example, the wedge and the start of the race, in an effort to improve the safety of what many consider the most dangerous play of the game.

The league is also committed to encouraging the use of more advanced helmets, and 74 percent of players now use them, a big jump from the 41 percent that used them in 2017. That number will increase again next year, because the lowest It will be prohibited to make helmets. The number of concussion evaluations during the games remained high (538), although 75 percent of those evaluations did not result in a concussion diagnosis.

"We continue to emphasize an extremely conservative approach," said Dr. Allen Sills, medical director of the NFL. "If they even suspect that someone is shocked, we select that player."

The league is planning to introduce other initiatives this year, including a pilot program that will place sensors on the guards of four-team players to gather even more detailed data on the types of impact that cause concussions and a challenge to launch this spring to redesign the helmets to improve security.

In addition, the Competition Committee will consider the ideas of a project of public origin to make the punt safer. Four finalists will present their ideas to a panel during Super Bowl week in Atlanta.

While much of the public's attention in recent years has focused on concussions, knee injuries continue to affect players, and the league was less pleased with the information about them. The amount of ACL and MCL tears remained largely flat for a period of seven years, with players who suffered 57 ACL tears in 2018. Miller said the NFL is concerned that the amount of lower extremity injuries (damage to the knees, ankles and hamstrings). for example – it is not decreasing.

Sills said the league believes that the data-based approach it has incorporated to treat concussions could be used to reduce the number of injuries in the lower extremities. By the end of the year, the NFL plans to implement a program to badyze, among other things, taco patterns and different playing surfaces, as well as the player's training time.

Follow Judy Battista on Twitter at @judybattista

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