Airline travel is stressful. And a seven-hour flight is hard on even the most fit bodies, given the slightly reduced oxygen levels, inevitable dehydration and often disorienting time-zone change.
Under the NFL’s concussion protocol, Washington Redskins tight end Jordan Reed and cornerback Josh Norman are scheduled to see an independent neurologist on Thursday — before the team’s evening flight to London — who will determine if they’re cleared to play in Sunday’s game at Wembley Stadium.
But there’s nothing in the protocol that prohibits or cautions against airline travel during a concussed player’s recovery, meaning they could make the trip even if they’re not medically cleared to compete.
The four-page protocol (compiled by the NFL’s Head, Neck and Spine Committee, with input from the NFL Players Association, NFL Physicians Society and the Professional Football Athletic Trainers Society) spells out five mandatory steps for a concussed player’s gradual return to contact drills and competition. It doesn’t include a timetable for a player’s return, noting that each case is unique.
“Each player and each concussion is unique,” the protocol states. “Therefore, there is no set time frame for return to participation or for the progression through the steps of the graduated exercise program set forth below. Recovery time will vary from player to player.”
For the same reason, it doesn’t address airline travel, a league source explained. Each situation is unique.
Redskins Coach Jay Gruden said Wednesday that if Reed and Norman are cleared Thursday, they’ll make the trip to London. Sunday’s game against the Cincinnati Bengals (3-4) is followed by a bye week. If they’re not cleared, Gruden said, the team would decide whether they’d stay behind.
Science on the subject of flying with concussions is limited.
A 2014 study examined the experience of 239 NHL players over a three-year span who suffered concussions and then flew in pressurized airplane cabins four to six hours after the game in which they were concussed. The study, presented at the IOC World Conference on Prevention of Injury & Illness in Sport, found that their overall recovery may take slightly longer. But it addressed only cases in which airplane travel followed just hours after the injury.
It didn’t explore cases in which airline travel followed several days or weeks after the injury.
Reed, 26, has missed the past two games with lingering symptoms of a concussion suffered in the Oct. 9 victory at Baltimore. It was the fifth diagnosed concussion of his career and at least the sixth overall. He insisted Wednesday, after taking limited part in practice at Redskins Park, that he is symptom-free and feels perfectly normal.
Norman, 28, had a concussion diagnosed after his helmet slammed into the Ford Field turf during Sunday’s loss at Detroit. It was his third in the past three NFL seasons. Like Reed, he also took limited part in practice on Wednesday, which means both have reached either the fourth or the fifth step of the protocol. Here’s a look at the final phases of the NFL concussion protocol:
Step 4: Football-specific work. The player adds noncontact football drills, such as throwing, catching and running to his repertoire of exercise. No contact allowed with other players, tackling dummies or sleds.
Step 5: Full football activity, full clearance. The player resumes practicing with the team, with no limitations. Once the team physician clears him to complete, the player is examined by the independent neurological consultant, who also reviews any relevant neurological tests.
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NFL concussion protocol silent on question of airline travel during recovery – Washington Post