High school football is safe, even beneficial, says new study



Posted on March 14, 2014 at 5:18 PM

Updated Tuesday, Mar 18 at 5:56 AM

Meg Farris / Eyewitness News
Email: mfarris@wwltv.com | Twitter: @megfarriswwl

NEW ORLEANS - A new study goes against the current thinking that high school football is unsafe. 

A local doctor presented his research Friday, for the first time, to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons gathered here in New Orleans. 

Parents of high school football players may have less to worry about when it comes to potential brain injury. 

"There was no decline in their cognitive function based on the number of years that they participated in sport. In fact, on one of the studies, their scores improved based on the number of years they had  participated in football," said Dr. Gregory Stewart, associate professor of orthopedics at Tulane. He is also a specialist in physical medicine and rehabilitation. 

Dr. Stewart followed nearly 1,300 New Orleans high school football players for more than four years, and found the opposite of what he expected. Only 4%,  not 20%, had concussions. And those who took hits year after year without a concussion, showed no decline on mental tests.  

We asked the section head of LSU Health Sciences Center Emergency Medicine, Dr. Keith Van Meter, to react to these findings. He believes the best high tech helmets are important and speculates that possible injury from hits, or sub-concussions, could be healed from the known brain benefits of exercise.

"I think we'll find that the brain is much more plastic in recovery than was ever imagined before. I think parents should hold out for improved protective technologies and equipment. I think that parents should know that exercise has to follow each of their children all the way to the end of their lives," explained Dr. Van Meter. He is also a hyperbaric medicine specialist at LSUHSC. 

Both doctors believe concussions need to be aggressively treated.

"The mandatory rest periods still should be instated and that will bring improvement and allow more safety in the field," added Dr. Van Meter.

"People who have concussions, that's a whole separate group of individuals, and I think that our management and care of individuals with concussions has to be very careful," said Dr. Stewart. 

Dr. Stewart says football rules make the contact sport even safer today than when he gathered his data 15 years ago. 

"I think this is accurate. I think that if you go and look over the years at people who participated in high school football, even the ones who didn't go on to play college, that you're not seeing those people saying that they are having significant cognitive decline and coming back and blaming high school football for it," said Dr. Stewart.  

Another new study finds that more than half of high school athletes with concussions, play without coaches knowing about their symptoms. Details here: http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/03/14/us-high-school-athletes-concussions-idUSBREA2D1AL20140314 

Dr. Stewart said local students reported playing with symptoms of concussions. He now wants to start an educational program for high school athletes so they won't play with the warning signs. Some signs include dizziness, headaches, and blurred vision.