By Dev Mishra, M.D.
President, Sideline Sports Doc
Clinical Assistant Professor of Orthopedic Surgery, Stanford University
- Published research from the University of Cincinnati shows that visual field training has the potential to significantly reduce concussion rates in college football
- This very early research needs to be repeated for applicability in youth and high school football as well as other sports, but may have promise
I do hope that someday we’ll have a tighter handle on reducing concussion risk so we won’t have to write about it quite so much, but until then I’ll continue to highlight some developments in science that could benefit young athletes. This week I’d like to focus on an interesting preliminary study from the University of Cincinnati showing that training for improved peripheral vision has the potential to decrease the incidence of concussions in football.
Peripheral vision training has become commonplace as a performance enhancement tool for some sports. Training athletes for better peripheral vision reportedly improves a batter’s ability to hit a baseball, a tennis player to return a serve, a quarterback to see receivers, and other sport specific tasks. Fighter pilots and NASA astronauts use peripheral vision training to improve their critical job performance.
Is it possible that improving peripheral vision might somehow allow an athlete to avoid the serious hits that lead to a concussion? Would improved peripheral vision decrease the blind side hits that lead to an unexpected jarring of the head and neck? Researchers working with the University of Cincinnati football team conducted a study to find out.
From 2006 to 2009, the University of Cincinnati football team averaged about nine concussions a year. From 2010 to this most recent season, the team’s average concussion rate has dropped below two a year. Researchers attribute the large decrease in concussions to peripheral vision training for the players using a Dynavision light board on its football players.
The theory behind the improvement is that improved peripheral vision allowed the players to avoid the most vulnerable positions that would typically result in an unexpected impact. By seeing and sensing the impact before it happens the player is in a better position to protect himself from the hit and thus have a chance to avoid a concussion. You can read the study here.
My initial take on this study is that it is promising, especially for collegiate football, it makes sense, and certainly can’t hurt. We will of course need additional research to prove that the vision training caused the decrease in concussions, but this small study is very interesting. It’s also hard to say how applicable the training would be in reducing concussions in sports with different concussion mechanisms, such as soccer where many concussions occur in head to head impact while trying to head the ball. It would also need some data in younger age groups, and cost is likely to be an issue for high schools.
So more research is needed, but visual training is catching on in sports at the youth level, in college and beyond. The hope is that by seeing the field of play in a different light, more athletes will avoid a concussion that takes them out of play.