What’s behind Iowa’s decrease in head injuries since 2012

Sports

The first part of our look at concussions in the Iowa football program told you head injuries were down 40 percent over the last six years. Now let’s examine some factors contiributing to the decline.

Team physician Andy Peterson says concussion recognition is the place to start.

“Some of that is through the medical staff,” Peterson said. “Some of that is through the coaching. Some of that is from other players and some of that is just some people being advocates for themselves.”

Identifying concussions helps athletes receive the proper treatment, lowering the likelihood of subsequent head injuries.

“We have a graduated return-to-play process once people are back to make sure have really physically recovered before we start to put them back at risk again,” Peterson said. “So protecting people while they’re still symptomatic is very important and arguably the most important part of concussion management.”

Rule changes are another aspect to the concussion decline — specifically the targeting rule that went into effect in 2013.

“The game, in my opinion is safer because of that rule,” Iowa offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz said. “That rule was necessary. There were hits happening on the football field that were dangerous, and really, unecessary at the end of the day.”

Changes in the way Iowa practices coincided with the rule change.

“Getting rid of two-a-day practices, hitting maybe a little bit less, especially during preseason camp and bowl prep time,” Peterson said.

Advances in helmet technology have also been championed by Iowa, although equipment manager Greg Morris admits the effects might not be seen for decades.

“When these guys that are playing today are in their 40s, 50s, 60s, how healthy are they? Are they healthy? Are their brains healthy?” Morris said.

Improved equipment can only make the game marginally safer.

Peterson says he envisions some sort of biomarker that will produce a more concrete, long-term solution.

“I think sometime in the next 5-10 years we’re going to have a better diagnostic test for a concussion and that will be a game changer, because right now having the ambiguity around the diagnosis makes all of this other research a lot more difficult.”

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