The NFL acknowledged Friday that concussions rose significantly during the 2022 regular season, a sobering outcome that aligned with a season-long public conversation about head injuries.
According to data released by the league, there were 149 concussions suffered over 271 games this season. That’s an 18% jump from 2021 (126) and 14% higher than the three-year average (130) between 2018 and 2020.
NFL chief medical officer Dr. Allen Sills on Friday attributed the rise to a number of factors, including a protocol change that he said “broadened and strengthened” the definition of a concussion following a series of injuries suffered by Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa.
“We continue to become more cautious and conservative in our evaluation and diagnosis of concussions,” Sills said. “That’s not just an opinion. That’s backed up by the data.”
Sills did not say whether he thought the numbers were driven by better diagnostics, but he did reveal that league medical staffs performed an average of 1.6 evaluations per game — a number that has risen over time, Sills said. In addition, he said, there were nearly twice as many medical timeouts in 2022 by independent spotters and on-field officials compared to 2021.
The NFL did, however, experience success in its efforts to mitigate preseason practice concussions. After tweaking its acclimation period at the start of training camp, and requiring players at certain positions to wear Guardian Cap pads on their helmets, the NFL brought practice concussions to an eight-year low of 25.
The position groups that were required to wear Guardian Caps experienced a 52% reduction in concussions over the same time period in 2021, according to NFL executive vice president Jeff Miller. As a result, Miller said, it is possible the league will expand the use and duration of Guardian Caps during training camp moving forward.
Overall, players suffered a total of 52 concussions from the start of training camp to the beginning of the regular season. The combined total of 213 preseason and regular season concussions was 14% higher than 2021 but within range of the three-year average from 2018 to 2020 (203).
In other NFL health and safety news:
• The total of all preseason and regular-season player injuries was down 5.6%, according to Miller.
• Injuries on punts and kickoffs continue to be “disproportionate” to the frequency of plays, Miller said. The NFL competition committee decided not to act on similar data last season, but it will be a topic of conversation again in 2023.
• The helmet industry is getting close to having a model designed specifically for quarterbacks, Miller said, and could be on the market this fall to help address a rise in concussions at that position. VICIS has previously tested helmets designed specifically for offensive linemen.
• Sills and Miller will present data to the competition committee regarding several tackling techniques, including the “hip drop,” that might be contributing to lower extremity injuries, especially high ankle sprains. Overall, though, Sills said that injuries to the lower extremities fell by 14% in 2022.