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Helmetless Football Tackling Drills May Reduce the Amount of Head Impacts in the Sport

First Posted: Jan 02, 2016 10:45 AM EST
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There's been national debate around football-related head impacts and how they can cause problems later in life. Now, in order to reduce these problems, researchers have helped develop a set of helmetless-tackling drills that can reduce head impacts by 28 percent in one season.

"The idea of taking off the football helmet during practice to reduce head impact may seem counterintuitive to the sport," said Erik Swartz, one of the researchers, in a news release. "But the findings show that preventing head impacts, which may contribute to spine and head injuries like concussions, may be found in behavior modification like these drills."

In this latest study, the researchers divided the athletes into two groups: an intervention group of 25 players and a control group of 25 players. Before each workout session, an xPatch head-impact sensor was placed on the skin of the players just behind the right ear. The xPatch monitored the frequency, location and acceleration of all the head impacts.

Football players in the intervention group performed five-minute tackling drills without their helmets and shoulder pads twice a week in preseason and once a week during football season. The intervention drills consisted of repetitions of proper tackling into an upright pad, tackling dummy, or a teammate holding a padded shield, at a 50 percent to 75 percent effort. The control group performed non-contact football skills at the same time, rate and duration.

"This behavior modification is not only about alleviating head impacts that can cause injuries now, but reducing the risk of concussive impacts that can lead to long-term complications later in life," said Swartz. "These helmetless drills could help to make it safer to play football."

The findings are published in the Journal of Athletic Training.

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