NFL Health Update: Dr. Margot Putukian talks about sports safety

NFL HEALTH AND SAFETY UPDATE -- SEPTEMBER 11, 2013

Q&A with Dr. Margot Putukian

Dr. Margot Putukian is chair of the Return-to-Play Subcommittee on the NFL Head, Neck and Spine Committee. She also serves as Director of Athletic Medicine Services at Princeton University. Dr. Putukian spoke about sports safety at the collegiate and professional level.

As college athletes head back to the playing field this fall, what's the first thing you tell them all about sports safety?

The importance of taking care of themselves, and as it relates to head injury, making sure they are aware of the signs and symptoms of concussion and the importance of reporting these symptoms (including those experienced by their teammates) to their athletic medicine staff. We also discuss other areas of safety including how to avoid over-exertion and heat issues, the importance of proper hygiene in avoiding infection, the importance of nutrition, and the role of rest in recovery and performance.

How does your experience with college athletes lend itself to your work on the Head, Neck and Spine Committee?

I work with athletes from a variety of sports, and there are issues that these athletes bring to the forefront that might be a little different. For example, soccer players are hard to evaluate when the play is often non-stop, and having to consider this lends itself to asking critical questions regarding how quickly a player should be evaluated. Some sports do not include helmets as part of their protective equipment, which again raises questions regarding the role of equipment in preventing or minimizing injury. Having the perspective of a collegiate team physician taking care of a multitude of sports with a variety of sport specific challenges is useful in then addressing football at the professional level.

You were involved in the creation of the NFL Sideline Concussion Protocol. Why is this important? What does it accomplish?

The NFL Sideline Concussion Protocol provides a standardized assessment (NFL Sideline Assessment) that includes an evaluation of symptoms, cognitive function and balance, as well as "go – no go" determinations. The NFL Sideline Concussion Protocol provides a standardized algorithm that all the medical providers across the league can use that addresses the evaluation and disposition decision-making to exclude more serious brain injury as well as spine injury, and then also evaluate concussive injury. Though more sophisticated tests are incorporated in the baseline and return to play decision-making after a game, the sideline protocol incorporates a standardized assessment that all members of the medical team can use to evaluate an athlete on the sideline.

What sort of culture changes have you seen regarding head injuries across all sports?

There has been a significant culture change regarding head injuries not only in football, but also in several other sports, notably ice hockey, lacrosse and soccer. For all of these sports as well as many others, concussion is a significant injury with potentially long-term consequences. The biggest culture changes are the importance of taking the head out of the game, penalizing instead of rewarding hits to the head, and trying to instill a sense of fair play instead of hurting opponents. These culture changes have come by way of rule enforcement and rule changes, education and also modification of coaching techniques. We need to keep sports safe so that our youth can continue to participate and enjoy the benefits of lifelong activity and competition.

NFL, Under Armour, GE launch Head Health Challenge II

Last week, the NFL, Under Armour and GE launched the Head Health Challenge II initiative seeking innovative ideas and technology to protect athletes, military personnel and others exposed to concussion causing activities. The launch saw coverage in several media markets, revealing a national concern and interest in improving the safety of athletes or those at risk for concussions.

In an interview with Bloomberg Television, Commissioner Roger Goodell spoke about the importance of this collaborative effort in seeking ways to detect and mitigate concussions.

"We need to do more to protect people from concussions," Goodell said. "To do that, we have joined together to find more protective headgear. We believe that innovation and technology can do that, that's why we're joining forces."

"We are very pleased to have Under Armour join our work with GE to help accelerate progress and find better ways to protect the brain from injury," said Goodell. "This is a perfect example of our shared commitment to making the culture of sports better and safer -- especially for young athletes."

Former NFL players also attended the launch and spoke on the importance of this initiative in keeping players safe.

"I think this commissioner needs to be commended for really opening Pandora's box, if you will, because the concussion issue has been boiling, now, for quite some time. Since the commissioner took over, he wanted to improve the safety of the league," said Boomer Esiason, former NFL quarterback.

Heads Up Football ambassadors visit youth leagues nationwide

In recent weeks, former NFL players now serving as Heads Up Football Ambassadors have spent time with Heads Up youth football leagues across the country, reinforcing the essentials of proper Heads Up tackling and talking about the values of football participation.

West Virginia University Director of Athletics Oliver Luck visited with the Parkersburg Ramblers in West Virginia.

Luck, who serves on the NFL's Player Safety Advisory Panel, told the Ramblers that he is "a big believer in the importance of football as a sport. It's a great sport for kids."

"It's the most popular sport in the country, so we want to see the sport grow, develop and stay healthy," he added.

ESPN analyst Merril Hoge spent time at a Fort Thomas Junior Football League game in Kentucky, while former Pro Bowl player Tony Mayberry joined the Avon Park Red Devils to serve as honorary captains for the coin toss at a recent Buccaneers game.

-- NFL Communications

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