Innovations help minimize risks of concussions at all levels of football

Norfolk Daily News

November 12, 2021

Last month, Seattle Seahawks linebacker Darrell Taylor had movement in all of his extremities after leaving Seattle’s game against Pittsburgh on a stretcher with a neck injury. Taylor was on the ground for more than 10 minutes while being attended to by medical staff. He was taken by ambulance to a hospital.

The following day, Tennessee Titans left tackle Taylor Lewan was carted off the field strapped to a backboard after taking a hit to his head and neck area against the Buffalo Bills. Lewan was evaluated for a concussion and also had movement in all of his extremities.

While both players have returned to action, it underscores the importance of taking precautions with and preventing head and neck injuries. In sports, with a head injury, time is of the essence. With any possible concussion, there’s potential for a more serious injury.

From high school to the professional ranks, coaches, players and trainers have taken steps in an effort to reduce such injuries.

At Norfolk High School, for instance, this marked the first year that players wore the Guardian Cap during practices, said John Erwin, the school’s activities director. Similar to a NASCAR driver and the soft wall technology at tracks, the Guardian serves the same purpose for an athlete’s head — a soft shell barrier between it and impact.

The Guardian Cap — which is easily attached to the standard helmet —has been reported to reduce impact by up to 33%. That has attracted many NFL, college, high school and youth league teams who now use the Guardian Cap during practice drills.

But the Guardian Cap isn’t the only tool being used.

Now, fast help can be right at the fingertips. One way to look for signs of a concussion is to measure how the iris in the eye responds to light, and researchers have developed an app that can be used on the field to help test that. The app uses the flash on the smartphone’s camera to shine light in the eye and then the camera measures the pupil dilation. Coaches and physicians at the game or practice can use the data collected to see if the person shows characteristics of a concussion.

Such innovations add to what’s already being done, such as performing preseason testing to better monitor for a concussion during the season, teaching proper techniques to help minimize the risk of getting a concussion and having trainers closely monitoring athletes.

“If in doubt, we hold them out,” Erwin said.

That’s good advice to help keep football players safe at all levels.

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