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NFL Says Regular Season Concussions Rose 18% as Protocol Evolves

  • Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa situation led to midseason changes to concussion protocol.
  • Overall injuries decreased 5.6% during the regular season compared to 2021.
NFL concussions
Jason Parkhurst-USA TODAY Sports
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The NFL said diagnosed concussions in the 2022 NFL regular season increased by 18%. Still, the league and NFLPA officials are closely examining one piece of equipment that could help mitigate head impacts for its highest-profile position. 

NFL Executive VP Jeff Miller said the league is “getting very close to a quarterback-specific helmet.” Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa put the NFL’s concussion protocol back in the spotlight during the season after sustaining multiple concussions from the back of his head hitting the turf. 

“We’ve talked now for a number of years about our goal of position specificity and helmets, and for the first time saw an offensive line helmet design from VICIS,” said Miller, who oversees the league’s player health and safety initiatives. Hopefully [as soon as] this fall, we will see an entrant in that space that looks at the sorts of hits that quarterbacks take and adjust the helmet to prevent against those.”

The overall injury rate fell 5.6% during the regular season, but there were 161 diagnosed concussions — the highest total since the 2017 season. 

Allen Sills, the NFL’s chief medical officer, said the league’s rolling out a rare in-season change to the concussion protocol could explain at least part of the rise.

“A protocol change during the season to even broaden or strengthen the definition of concussion are things that I think show that we’re continuing to be even more conservative and cautious in the diagnosis [of concussions],” Sills said. 

The NFL and NFLPA conducted an investigation into how the policy failed to detect Tagovailoa’s initial concussion as he was allowed to stay in a Week 3 game that led to a scary situation days later on Thursday Night Football when Tagovailoa was carted off the field. 

On Oct. 8, the NFL and NFLPA added ataxia — defined as “abnormality of balance/stability, motor coordination, or dysfunctional speech” — to the “no-go” symptoms that require a player to be “removed immediately from the field of play.”

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A look at the other injury data provided by Miller, Sills, and Dr. Christina Mack, an NFL medical advisor: 

  • The number of players suffering a second concussion was basically unchanged. 
  • The return-to-play timeline was also stable around nine days after a concussion diagnosis. 
  • The concussion rate in the preseason dipped by 15.5%. 
  • There were three to four concussion evaluations for every one diagnosed with concussion. 
  • Thursday Night Football, international games, and the 17th game (added in 2021) didn’t have an increased injury rate. 
  • A pad that goes over a player’s helmet, known as the Guardian Cap, was a factor in pre-season practice concussions dropping 52%. 
  • Guardian Caps will see increased use in the upcoming offseason with possible changes to reduce the chance of players overheating while wearing them. 
  • The league is still studying turf issues and which surfaces could lead to more orthopedic injuries.
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