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Study: Full-Contact Practices Increase Head Injury Risk

A study by researchers at the University of Virginia found football players who sustained unnecessary hits at practices were at a greater risk for concussions and other long-term detrimental conditions. 

The NCAA currently doesn't regulate full-contact practices of college teams because the organization is waiting for definitive data that would give them reason to do so. The UVA researchers believe their findings could give the NCAA reason to make changes to the rules surrounding college football practices. 

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Researchers at the UVA conducted a study where they had UVA football players wear an impact-sensing patch in their helmets during 12 games, 27 full-pad practices, 29 half-pad practices and 10 helmet-only practices. The researchers looked at the data provided by the sensing patch to understand when players experienced head trauma. 

They found that players experienced more head trauma during full-pad, or full-contact, practices than in any of the other types of practice and was equivalent to what they experienced during games. This means depending on the amount of full-contact practices coaches hold, they could be seriously injuring their players or putting them at a much higher risk for head injuries.

Neuroscientist Bryson Reynolds says football programs need to have a limit on the number of full-contact practices they have during a season: "They would be receiving almost as many head impacts as a game 3, 4, 5 days a week and that could put the athletes at greater risk of concussion and at these other long-term detrimental effects."

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The researchers believe their findings should give the NCAA reason to put rules into place that regulate the amount of full-contact practices college teams are allowed to have per season. The NFL implemented this rule in 2011, which limited teams to 14 full-contact practices per season, and now professional players are experiencing fewer head impacts than college players. 

In addition to examining head impacts, the researchers also looked at the types of hits players sustain during games and practices and found that practice equipment also needs to be heavily regulated in order to prevent detrimental injuries. 

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