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NFL and NFLPA Commit Additional Half Million Dollars to Fund Studies of Innovative Pain Management

Researchers from American Society of Pain and Neuroscience and Emory University to conduct studies on effects of cannabinoids and alternative care on athlete pain management and performance




The National Football League and the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) announced today they are jointly awarding two grants in research funding totaling $526,525 to independent medical researchers at the American Society of Pain and Neuroscience (ASPN) and Emory University. The grants will fund investigations into innovative, first-of-their-kind, alternative pain management methods that could benefit NFL players, and society at large. The studies will investigate the effects of cannabidiol (CBD) and non-invasive vagal nerve stimulation (nVNS) on alleviating concussion symptoms (ASPN) and mindfulness-based intervention in sports medicine injuries (Emory).

These awards are the second round chosen by the NFL-NFLPA Joint Pain Management Committee (PMC), which aims to facilitate research to better understand and improve potential alternative pain management treatments for NFL players. Last year, $1 million in funding from the NFL was awarded to researchers at the University of California San Diego and the University of Regina for studies focused on the effects of cannabinoids on general pain recovery and neuroprotection methods that may reduce the use of prescription medication. The winning proposals for this round of joint NFL-NFLPA funding are:

1. "A Pilot Study Assessing Non-Invasive Treatment of Refractory Post-Concussion Headache Pain," led by Dr. Erika Petersen and researchers at the American Society of Pain and Neuroscience (ASPN). Post-traumatic headache (PTH) is one of the most common aftereffects of concussion or other traumatic brain injury. PTH is a poorly treated, highly debilitating headache disorder where medications and other options for treatment are not very effective. Given that nearly 4 million Americans are diagnosed with concussions annually, PTH should be considered a substantial public health concern. New treatment avenues such as cannabinoids and non-drug options such as non-invasive vagal nerve stimulation (nVNS) have shown promise as a potential alternative to opioid-based treatments in their effects on the inflammatory responses to concussion. This randomized study – first-of-its-kind research – will compare nVNS and cannabidiol (CBD) in contact sport athletes experiencing PTH to current standard of care treatment. The pilot data gathered in this study will guide future investigations into treatment of patients with post-traumatic headache. (Description provided by: ASPN)

2. "Implementing and Evaluating the Effect of Personalized Pain Coaches After Orthopaedic Surgery for Patients Who Sustain Sports Medicine Injuries to Improve Postoperative Outcomes," led by Drs. Nicholas Giordano and Mara Schenker at Emory University.

This clinical trial will examine how delivering a mindfulness-based intervention before orthopedic surgery to patients who sustain sports medicine injuries affects postoperative recovery related to patient-reported pain outcomes, opioid utilization, and objective functional outcomes. Certified instructors will deliver multipronged, patient-centered, and tailored education to participants on how to implement mindfulness practices into their daily routine. The study team will then examine the benefits of the intervention – delivered either in person or online – compared to standard of care written instructions for managing postoperative pain. A combination of Bluetooth-enabled and wearable devices, as well as patient-reported survey outcomes, will be collected over a three-month postoperative period per participant. Mindfulness interventions – which include the intentional awareness of present-moment thoughts, emotions, sensations, and other internal or external stimuli – promote a sense of calm and have been found to improve physical and behavioral outcomes. (Description provided by: Emory University)

"We are always seeking new knowledge, techniques, and tools to ensure that NFL athletes are treated with the best possible care," said Dr. Allen Sills, NFL Chief Medical Officer. "We are proud to lead the way on investigating how the use of CBD and other alternative measures could positively impact pain management for players. As within the broader scope of player health and safety, we want to ensure every treatment at our disposal clears the appropriate medical standard for wider use."

"The funding for these studies will lead to advancements which will ultimately help NFL players off the field," said Dr. Geoffrey Ling, MD, PhD, Col. (Ret.), Co-Chair of the NFL-NFLPA Pain Management Committee. "The health and safety of players is always the highest priority for the NFLPA and the work of the joint pain management committee with the NFL is an important part of fulfilling this mission." "The Pain Management Committee is thrilled that the NFL and NFLPA are funding rigorous studies on multiple treatment modalities in order to improve the treatment of pain," said Dr. Kevin Hill, Co-Chair of the NFL-NFLPA Pain Management Committee. "It is our hope that these studies will help the players manage the pain that may be a part of professional football."

"ASPN is pleased to partner with the NFL in seeking safer and effective treatments for athletes who suffer from the painful effects of concussions," said Dr. Dawood Sayed, ASPN vice-chairman. "As the leading medical society dedicated to the study of pain and neuroscience, ASPN will leverage the top clinicians and scientists in the world to innovate new treatments via this important NFL grant program."

"Our team is excited to receive funding for this study, which will rigorously evaluate the utility of mindfulness as a scalable, potentially opioid-sparing, patient-centered intervention," said Dr. Nicholas Giordano, assistant professor at Emory University and principal investigator on the research proposal.

"We are hopeful that this work will contribute to improving postoperative outcomes for NFL players, other athletes, and anyone with sports medicine injuries," added Dr. Mara Schenker, medical director at the Grady Orthopedic Center and associate professor at Emory University, co-lead on the research proposal.

While the results of the studies funded under this program may inform alternative pain management strategies, they will have no impact on the jointly administered Policy and Program on Substances of Abuse in place under the current NFL-NFLPA collective bargaining agreement (CBA). Elite professional athletes outside of the NFL will be participating in the studies funded under this award. NFL players are not permitted to participate.

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