Injury prone: Why are NFL injuries on the rise?

11/26/14 by Matthew S. Vandriak



Does it seem like every week in the NFL there is the announcement of a player or players being put on injured reserve with a season ending injury? Has it seemed like there are more injuries more recently in the NFL than there has been in the past? Well if it seems that way that's because it's true. The number of serious injuries in the NFL have been on the rise.
A recent study done by Edgeworth Economics showed that the number of serious injuries (defined as injuries that kept a player off the field for at least 8 days) increased every year from 2009 through 2012. Not just did the study show that injuries during the regular season and playoffs increased, but that pre-season injuries have steadily increased from 2004 through 2012. As a matter of fact, the study showed that 62.4% of serious injuries occurred prior to the regular season, and the most common injury has been a torn ACL. 24% of all serious injuries that were included in the study data were some form of an ACL tear.
So what is causing the rise in these injuries? There are a couple of different reasons that were associated with the Edgeworth study. One thought is that pre-season injuries increased because of the hot, humid, late summer weather and the tough practice schedule that training camp brings. Another is that players are getting hurt in camp because they're trying too hard to impress coaches and management. Another theory is that because players are bigger and stronger than ever and are actually too big and strong for their own bodies. The thinking here is that players upper bodies are getting bigger, but the lower body can't compensate because you can't make your ACL bigger and stronger.

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One other theory, which I think makes more sense than some of the above ones, is that more injuries are reported now than in the past. With advances in medical technology, reporting injuries is more accurate and precise. Also with the recent focus on concussions, players are no longer "playing through" an injury that may not have been reported in the past.
But one thing that wasn't mentioned in association with this study is the decrease in player workouts before the season. The most recent contract between the NFL and the players union has limited the number of off season workouts and the number of full contact practices. Taking away those off season workouts is taking away from the amount of time a player puts in to ready himself for the rigors of the season. NFL analyst Steve Young said recently that it seems like the pre-season until October starts because there is so much less off season and pre season activity than there was when he played in the 1980's and 1990's.
One other thought I had is that maybe the increase in ACL and lower body injuries is an inadvertent effect of the NFL dealing with concussions and head injuries. By penalizing players for hitting an opponent high, more players are tackling low, which increases the chance of leg injuries. Whatever the cause, the fact of the matter is that injuries are on the increase in the NFL. After doing an excellent job of addressing the concussion issue, perhaps the NFL's next step is to tackle torn ACL's?

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