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Did NFL Lockout Provide Lessons to Minimize Injury Risk?

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Posted: 11/9/2011

COLUMBUS, Ohio – The recent National Football League (NFL) lockout has raised concerns about the effects of the shortened preseason after a recent study found that more career-threatening and potentially career-ending Achilles tendon injuries were suffered in the first two weeks of training camp than occur during a full season.
Lessons learned from the lockout may have significant implications for healthcare providers, school administrators, youth coaches, and middle school and high school athletes.
Researchers at The Ohio State University Medical Center and other institutions evaluated early NFL injury rates and saw a correlation between sports injures and preparatory conditioning. Their findings were outlined in a guest editorial in the October issue of the Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy.
“Our early analysis was limited to Achilles tendon injuries and it’s cause for concern due to the unprecedented number of Achilles tendon ruptures in training camp and the beginning of preseason,” says Timothy Hewett, director of research at Ohio State University Sports Medicine.
This year, following the rapid transition to training camp and preseason practices from the NFL lockout, ten Achilles tendon injuries occurred over the first 12 days of training camp, with two additional injuries occurring in the subsequent 17 days, which included the first two weeks of preseason competition. These numbers have already exceeded all previously reported Achilles tendon ruptures that normally occur over an entire NFL season.
From a historical perspective, data from a prior report covering 20 NFL season between 1980 and 2001 indicated an average of approximately four Achilles tendon ruptures per year. The NFL’s Injury and Safety Committee reports that, on average, eight Achilles tears occur in a full season.
Another interesting aspect of these injuries is that historical data indicate Achilles ruptures generally occur in veteran players, or those who have been in the league approximately six years with an average age of 26.5 years. Of the ten injuries in the first 12 days of post-lockout training camp, five occurred in rookies with an average age of 23.9 years.
Achilles tendon ruptures likely represent career-altering or career-ending events for professional athletes. Previous studies show that one-third of these players never return to NFL competition. Those able to play again generally endure 11 months of rehabilitation, yet they see a greater than 50 percent reduction in performance as measured by passing and rushing yards for offensive players, and tackles and interceptions for defensive players.
Researchers considered additional factors that could explain this trend. The NFL’s new labor agreement reduces team-supervised conditioning by five weeks thus capping organized team activities at nine weeks instead of the previous 14. This change, most likely, decreases opportunities for players to interact with medical staff and the team’s strength and conditioning professionals.  In addition, shortened coaching time may influence NFL coaches to increase the intensity, volume and frequency of training before the season starts.
Other possible consequences of the lockout could include relative re-injury risk during early sports re-integration and limited ability to fully rehabilitate from previous injuries.
“While the total elimination of sports-related injuries is an unrealistic goal, it’s clear that appropriately designed preseason training and conditioning, with ready access to sports medicine professionals and qualified strength and conditioning coaches, may help reduce the likelihood of sports related injuries in all athletes,” adds Hewett.
Co-authors included Gregory D. Myer, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center; Avery D. Faigenbaum, The College of New Jersey, Department of Health and Exercise Science; Chad E. Cherny, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center; and Robert S. Heidt, Wellington Orthopaedic and Sports Medicine.
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Media Contact: Doug Flowers, Medical Center Public Affairs and Media Relations,
(614) 293-3737, or Doug.Flowers@osumc.edu.
OSU Medical Center; Sports Medicine