At the end of every season, the NFL releases injury data as a part of the league’s commitment to sharing progress on its efforts to advance player health and safety. The injury data are compiled and analyzed by IQVIA, an independent, third-party company retained by the NFL.
During an end-of-season media briefing on January 23, 2020, the NFL shared injury data and analysis from the 2019 season. It also provided other updates on health and safety during the 2019 season, as well as what’s to come in 2020.
The injury data include statistics on a range of injuries, including the incidence of reported concussions in preseason and the regular season games during the 2012-2020 seasons. NFL medical experts analyze the data to consider whether and how equipment, protocols and rules changes are impacting player safety.
Below are the key takeaways from the media briefing discussing the 2019 season injury data.
1. Concussion Numbers Consistent Year-Over-Year
After a dramatic 24 percent drop in reported concussions during the 2018 season, the 2019 season saw reported concussion numbers remain statistically similar – 224 reported concussions this year versus 214 last year. This year’s data help validate the interventions made prior to last season and demonstrate that the decline in concussions in 2018 was not an aberration, the league said. These numbers represent a new benchmark against which the NFL will measure progress going forward in its efforts to drive further reductions in concussion rates.
“From here on, we’re going to be driving our concussion reduction numbers against that new benchmark,” said NFL Executive Vice President of Health and Safety Innovation Jeff Miller.
“Last year’s number was a substantial drop. This year’s number is statistically similar to it. We feel as if we’ve found a new place from which we need to continue to push down the number of concussions.”
2. Knee Ligament Injury Rates Down
Analysis of 2019 injury data shows that the rate of some lower extremity injuries decreased this season – with ACL tears down 18 percent and MCL injuries down 17 percent compared to the 2018 data.
“We’re really just getting started here,” said NFL Chief Medical Officer Dr. Allen Sills. “There’s a lot more work to be done but I’m excited about where we’re going with this.”
“As we look at injury burden, a couple of injuries really jump out – lower extremity strains, knee ligament injuries, and ankle sprains,” Sills continued. “So we are putting workstreams against each one of those specific injuries to try to understand who’s being injured, how they’re being injured, the factors driving injury, and the levers that we can pull to potentially affect those injuries.”
In 2019, the NFL began implementing a comprehensive injury reduction plan aimed at better understanding, treating and preventing lower extremity injuries. As part of those efforts, the league tracked the cleats worn by every player and the relative injury rates; analyzed different turf systems to understand their performance; and developed strategies to help players reduce the risk of injury during training camp, when there have historically been higher injury rates than in the regular season.
3. A Positive Cultural Shift: Increased Concussion Reporting
Of the 375 concussion evaluations performed during 2019 regular season games, nearly one-third were triggered by some element of self-reporting of head injury symptoms by players.
Additionally, there were a record 19 medical timeouts called this year, two of which resulted in diagnosed concussions.
“We’re very proud and comfortable with that [number],” Dr. Sills said. “We want to be as wide with our net as we can in terms of screening and evaluating players and I think that our system has showed that change.”
Dr. Sills also highlighted increased reporting and vigilance around concussions as apparent evidence of an important shift in attitudes across the league that benefits player health and safety.
“I have no doubt that our detection efforts are in a far different place today than they were, say ten years ago,” Dr. Sills said. “All of us perceive that the culture of self-reporting continues to grow and continues to change because players understand the magnitude of the injury.”