NFL Establishes Standardized Sideline Tests to Diagnose Player Concussion

The National Football League has told team doctors and trainers to use standardized sideline tests when they suspect a player has sustained a concussion.

The new test rules will be used by all teams before sending a player back onto the field, the league said today in a news release.

“It does not replace more sophisticated tests, and does not replace the individualized assessment by the clinician of the athlete, but does provide the medical staff with a standardized protocol to evaluate for head injury,” the NFL said.

The tests are based on work done in 2008 by the Concussion in Sport group in Zurich, Switzerland, and include “modifications specific to professional football,” according to the league.

The tests include a set of questions, an examination of the player’s eye movement, hands-on physical checks and a balance test.

“This tool provides a standardized format for evaluating head injury that medical staff can use on the sideline,” Margot Putukian, chairwoman of the NFL’s Return-to-Play Subcommittee and head team physician for Princeton University, said in the statement. “It incorporates the most important aspects of a focused exam, so that injury is identified and athletes with concussion and more serious head and spine injury can be removed from play.”

The NFL has sought to initiate policies giving teams better information before they allow players to return to the field.

Inconsistent Rules

During the last season, there was no consistency in the questions used by medical personnel in their examinations of players.

The league has been looking at possible changes to rules and equipment to reduce head injuries.

In November 2009, the U.S. House Judiciary Committee held a hearing on head injuries in football, with Commissioner Roger Goodell and players union Executive Director DeMaurice Smith among those testifying. Smith told Congress that the NFL ignored a decade of research showing a connection between on-field injuries and post-career mental illness.

The following month, Goodell told the teams that players had to remain on the sidelines if they couldn’t remember plays, had memory gaps or suffered from persistent headaches or dizziness. He also told clubs to hire independent neurologists and obtain their agreement with team doctors’ decisions to allow a player to return to action after a concussion.

In October, the NFL began suspending players and issuing fines for flagrant hits that endanger safety, particularly those to the head.

Former Chicago Bears safety Dave Duerson died Feb. 17 at age 50 from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the chest. According to his family, he chose that method so that his brain could be donated for research into chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a condition linked to athletes who have sustained repeated concussions.

Duerson retired in 1993 after playing 11 seasons in the NFL. He played on two Super Bowl-winning teams, with the Bears and New York Giants.

To contact the reporter on this story: Nancy Kercheval in Washington at nkercheval@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Sillup at msillup@bloomberg.net

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