After months away from the game, training camp is the time of year with the highest rate of injury for NFL players.
The NFL collects and analyzes preseason injury data to understand how equipment, protocols, and rules changes can help advance player health and safety throughout the entire season. These learnings are shared with key audiences—from players and coaching staff to, athletic trainers, team physicians and club sports scientists —so that they can effectively design their preseason practices and help players avoid unnecessary risk of injury.
Gathering preseason injury data is much more extensive than simply counting injuries. It's a collaborative effort between trainers and physicians from all 32 teams, independently contracted epidemiologists, and biomechanical engineers. The process can be broken down into three parts:
Data collection: NFL clubs enter their preseason data into a central database. This includes statistics on injuries occurring during preseason practices and games, including concussions, ACL, and MCL injuries. That information is combined with other data from the field gleaned from sensors (mouthguard, shoulder pads), equipment data (tracking of helmets, cleats, shoulder pads), field surface information, workload, performance data, video review and more.
Expert analysis: The data are analyzed by experts including the epidemiologists at IQVIA, biomechanical engineers at Biocore, trainers and physicians to understand the full context of how injuries occur and generate actionable insights that can advance player safety.
Knowledge sharing: The NFL shares learnings from the data analysis with those who are best suited to operationalize the findings – from players and coaching staff to trainers and team physicians.
The data help to inform preseason injury reduction efforts in three categories – concussion and head impacts, lower extremity injuries, and heat-related illness – where work is already underway:
- Concussion and head impacts: Efforts include encouraging players to wear top-performing helmets, teaching proper tackling technique, conducting targeted preseason invention with clubs, and eliminating certain higher risk practice activities. New in the 2021 preseason is the widespread availability of Guardian Caps by linemen and scaling up of the mouthguard sensor program to increase the amount of data collected about the duration, direction and impact of head impacts.
- Lower extremity injuries: The NFL-NFLPA's Joint Lower Extremity Injury Reduction Task Force developed five strategies, outlined in this educational video for clubs, that may help players reduce the risk of injury like hamstring and groin strains. Which cleats players are wearing are tracked to determine performance on-field and which offer a better degree of safety for players. The league is also evaluating turf systems – natural and artificial – to learn how it may correlate to injury.