University of New Hampshire (UNH) researchers suggest that the use of helmetless-tackling drills may be effective at reducing head impacts among football players.

The study was conducted by Erik Swartz, professor and chair of the department of kinesiology at UNH, among 50 UNH football players. Its purpose was to see if the helmetless-tackling technique, called the HuTTTM intervention program, could alter tackling behavior and ultimately reduce the number of head injuries, per a media release from the University of New Hampshire.

The findings, from the first year of a 2-year study, notes that the helmetless-tackling drills helped reduce the number of head impacts by 28% in one season.

The study was published online in the Journal of Athletic Training.

“The idea of taking off the football helmet during practice to reduce head impact may seem counterintuitive to the sport,” Swartz says in the release. “But the findings show that preventing head impacts, which can contribute to spine and head injuries like concussions, may be found in behavior modification like these drills.”

In the randomized controlled trial, the athletes were divided into two groups: an intervention group (25 players) and a control group (25 players). Before each workout session, an xPatch head-impact sensor was placed on the skin just behind the right ear (over the right mastoid) of each athlete. The xPatch monitored the frequency, location, and acceleration of all the head impacts, the release explains.

Football players in the intervention group performed 5-minute tackling drills without their helmets and shoulder pads twice a week in preseason and once a week during football season. The intervention drills consisted of repetitions of proper tackling into an upright pad, tackling dummy, or a teammate holding a padded shield, at a 50% to 75% effort. The control group performed non-contact football skills at the same time, rate, and duration. Both groups were supervised by the UNH football coaching staff. At the end of one football season, the intervention group that had performed the helmetless-tackling training program had experienced 30% fewer head impacts per exposure than the control group, the release continues.

“This behavior modification is not only about alleviating head impacts that can cause injuries now, but reducing the risk of concussive impacts that can lead to long-term complications later in life,” Swartz explains. “These helmetless drills could help to make it safer to play football.”

[Source(s): University of New Hampshire, EurekAlert]