The NFL had a slight uptick in concussions in the 2019 season compared to a year ago, but the incidence remained far below the record-high number of concussions reported in 2017.
The league also indicated that work is continuing on the impact of cannabidiol — commonly referred to as CBD — on potential pain management advantages for NFL players. The league has expressed more of an openness in recent years to allowing players to use CBD, which currently is a banned substance.
According to statistics released by the league on Thursday, there were 224 concussions in 2019 preseason and regular-season games, compared with 214 in 2018. That number still is well below the 281 reported in 2017. The league attributes the two-year decline to an emphasis on rules changes, including the prohibition of all blind-side blocks last season, and a shift to better-performing helmets in recent years.
“The numbers suggest we saw a sustained decrease,” said Dr. Christina Mack, senior director of epidemiology at IQVIA and a member of the league’s Health and Safety committee.
“We feel like we’ve found a new place in which we can push down from concussions,” said Jeffrey Miller, the committee’s executive vice president.
There also was a decrease in the number of knee injuries suffered by NFL players. There were 47 ACL tears in 2019 compared with 57 the year before and 109 MCL tears in 2019 compared with 132 in 2018. That’s down from 160 in 2015.
“Lower-extremity issues make up over 60 percent of injuries overall,” Mack said.
Dr. Alan Sills, the NFL’s chief medical officer, said the league has done extensive work on studying the potential advantages of CBD. The NFL is working in conjunction with the NFL Players Association on the CBD study, and there is a possibility of allowing players to use the substance for pain management. CBD and all marijuana-related products remain on the league’s list of banned substances.
“The charge of the pain management committee is to look at all alternatives,” Sills said. “That committee is looking at it on an evidence basis. If we’re going to approve any kind of therapy for NFL players, it would have to pass an extremely high standard of proof. We anticipate we’ll have a lot more to say about it in the coming months.”