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NFL Concussion Think Tank

Posted on October 28, 2015 in

Sports leagues from around the world met at NFL headquarters hoping to standardize head trauma research and brainstorm innovative treatments in 2014. The sixth-floor conference room at the NFL’s headquarters on Park Ave. housed an international think tank last weekend to deal with one of the most pressing issues in sports: head trauma and concussions. Concussion research takes several years to conduct, while concussions happen weekly in the NFL. The balance that leagues must strike is helping players preserve their health in the short-term while pursuing answers for a better long-term understanding of concussions.

Dr. Rich Ellenbogen, the Seattle-based neurosurgeon who co-chairs the league’s Head, Neck and Spine Committee, helped put on the 2014 event that brought together more than 30 experts representing a variety of sports leagues from across the globe, including the NHL, the NCAA, FIFA, the International Rugby Board and the Australian Football League, as well as the U.S. Army, U.S. Olympic Committee and equestrian organizations. “We are not going to make sports safer unless we have the research to give us the evidence to change,” Ellenbogen says. “We need to know what to change, and what’s not working.”

Dr. Bill Moreau was among the invited concussion researchers in 2014 and he will be in attendance again for the 2015 meeting to be held in England. Moreau is pleased to join together with world renowned experts to work toward answering the question of how we can accelerate the healing of concussed individuals. Can we look at this differently? Moreau suggested taking a look at the effects of low level exercise in selected individuals with concussive symptoms. Ellenbogen says “We know there are people who have different reactions to no activity. What if active rehabilitation is better than no rehabilitation or waiting until people are asymptomatic? That’s a question that’s never been asked and never been answered.”

It was finally asked by the think tank, and an answer could change procedures everywhere from the World Cup to the Super Bowl to youth sports. The corresponding proposal was a randomized clinical trial to be held over the next two years, comparing athletes’ reactions and recovery times using different return-to-play protocols. The test subjects would be athletes in one of the sports leagues that attended the conference.

The goal of the think tank was to propose research projects that would allow different sports leagues to collaborate, with funding from the NFL helping to fast-track the research. An educational grant from the NFL sponsored the conference. The NFL will decide which research to help fund and participate in over the next few months.