NFL Teams Up With NIH To Study Traumatic Brain Injuries

Brett Smith for – Your Universe Online

Increased awareness of the long-term effects of concussions is causing changes at all levels of contact sports, and with this increased awareness in mind, the Professional Football Athletic Trainers Society (PFATS) has announced a partnership with USA Football to increase player safety by endorsing USA Football’s Heads Up Football program.

The endorsement comes after the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Football League (NFL) revealed earlier this week they would be collaborating to learn more about the effects of traumatic brain injuries.

“Athlete safety is advanced through education, and that is the heart of USA Football’s Heads Up Football program,” said John Norwig, president of PFATS. “Education converts awareness into action. This program is establishing needed standards and behavior modification built upon the best medical science and research. Young athletes deserve this level of commitment. We are proud to endorse it.”

PFATS, which includes over 100 certified NFL trainers, works to promote the best medical care practices found in sports medicine, exercise science and nutrition. The trainers’ association comes as approximately 600,000 youth football players in America registered for Heads Up Football in 2013. The health and safety program offers coach certification, instruction on safe tackling techniques, concussion recognition training and proper equipment fitting instruction. It is scheduled to be tested on the high school level this fall in 35 schools across 10 states.

“PFATS will help our nonprofit office further develop a better and safer game for young athletes who enjoy the fun, fitness and other rewards that football affords,” said Scott Hallenbeck, executive director of USA Football. “We value their trust, partnership and continued leadership in athlete care and injury prevention.”

On the professional level, the NFL is working with the NIH on eight projects that will investigate the long-term effects of successive head injuries and how to advance the diagnosis of brain injuries.

“We need to be able to predict which patterns of injury are rapidly reversible and which are not. This program will help researchers get closer to answering some of the important questions about concussion for our youth who play sports and their parents,” said Story Landis, director of the NIH’s National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS).

Two of the projects are larger cooperative efforts focused on investigating long-term changes that occur in the brain years after a traumatic brain injury (TBI) and also how head traumas can cause a progressive brain degeneration condition called chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).

“Although the two cooperative agreements focus on different aspects of TBI, their combined results promise to answer critical questions about the chronic effects of single versus repetitive injuries on the brain, how repetitive TBI might lead to CTE, how commonly these changes occur in an adult population, and how CTE relates to neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s disease,” Landis said.

NIH also plans to fund six pilot projects that will support the early stages of sports-related concussion projects. If the pilot studies look promising, they will be expanded into larger projects, the NIH said.

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