NCAA Concussion Prevention Rules' Unwanted Effects

Concussion prevention rules in NCAA football leading to lower body injuries, University of Iowa research says.


Preventing concussions in college football could be leading to life-changing damage in other areas.

According to researchers from the University of Iowa, new National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) rules to protect football players from concussions could be leading to more lower body injuries.

In the study, researchers analyzed how rules to prevent Mild Traumatic Brain Injuries (MTBI), which were enacted back in 2013 by the NCAA, have changed the number of injuries to different areas of the body. They found that concussion prevention rules like the targeting penalty --which discourages defenders from targeting above the shoulder when coming into contact with a defenseless player--are resulting in a significant increase in injuries to knees, thighs, ankles and feet.

The rate of concussions, however, has not increased much. From the 2009-2010 season to the 2013-2014 season, the rate of concussions increased from about 2 to 3 concussions per 1000AE (athletic exposure). The rate of injury increased from about 9.5 injuries per 1000AE to almost 13 injuries per 1000AE.

"Our analysis of the NCAA Injury Surveillance Database though noted increased rates of ankle and knee injuries, which may result in osteoarthritis and disability issues later in life for these athletes," lead author Dr. Robert Westermann, from the University of Iowa's Department of Orthapeadics and Rehabilitation, said in a press release. "Athletes may be making contact lower on the body, to avoid the head-to-head contact and thus stiffer game penalties."

Out of a total of 2,400 injuries, most occurred in the knees at a rate of almost 34 percent, while almost 29 percent were ankle injuries. There was no increase in non-contact injuries, including injuries related to overuse. Almost 60 percent of injuries were from player contact.

"Our research is the first to report trends in injury patterns since targeting rule changes took effect," Dr. Westermann said. "Continued surveillance to examine these trends, and a more in-depth examination of how targeting rule changes are impacting injuries both at the targeted site and at other parts of the body needs to be performed to prevent long-term health issues."

A concussion occurs when the brain is endures trauma after a head injury. Short-term symptoms of concussion include nausea, dizziness and exhaustion. The long-term effects can include cognitive decline, seizures and mobility issues.

Repeat concussions can also result in CTE, or Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy. Symptoms of CTE include depression, difficulty in managing anger and cognitive decline. Previous research has indicated that concussions could also raise the likelihood of suicide by 300 percent.

This study was presented March 5 at the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine Specialty Day in Orlando, Florida.

Funding sources and disclosures were unavailable at time of presentation.