*The following is excerpted from an online article posted on HealthDay.
It is an annual rite of summer: sending young men out on football fields across America in the sweltering August heat for grueling practice sessions designed to prepare them for the coming season.
But a new study shows the ritual can be costly if players are pushed too hard. It is the most common way players die of non-traumatic injuries in high school and college football.
Many of these deaths involved conditioning with over-the-top workouts and punishment drills, plus inadequate medical response when a player starts to show signs of distress.
“We found the primary cause of deaths was overexertion of the athletes,” said lead researcher Dr. Barry Boden, from The Orthopaedic Center in Rockville, Md. “A lot of the coaches have free rein to develop whatever exercise programs they want.”
Although deaths from traumatic injuries on the football field have dropped significantly since the 1960s, the number of non-traumatic deaths hasn’t changed.
Boden thinks that reducing the number of deaths requires tailoring workouts to particular player positions and keeping the exertion level to what is expected during play.
“Stop having the football coaches exercise the team as a whole,” he said. “They should be exercising based on body type — the obese athlete should be doing training that basically mimics games.”
Also, punishment drills should be eliminated, Boden said. These drills still go on even though the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) consensus statement says that they should be ended, he noted.
The researchers reviewed 187 deaths in high school and college football that happened between 1998 and 2018. Of these deaths, 52% were from heart problems, 24% from heat, 12% from sickle cell trait, and 5% from asthma.
Overall, most of the player deaths happened before the regular season months of September through December. Deaths are most common in August, the researchers found.
The findings were presented recently at the annual meeting of the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine, in Boston. Such research should be considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.