Active Projects

The Football Players Health Study leads efforts to develop and support innovative research that has the potential to impact the health of current, former, and future NFL players. These initiatives include a first questionnaire for former players and other studies conducted by researchers across Harvard University and its affiliated hospitals to develop diagnostics, devices, and interventions.

Studies Open for Enrollment: Former NFL players can participate.

Studies Open for Enrollment

Health and Wellness Initiative
First Health and Wellness Questionnaire (Q1) Our First Health and Wellness Questionnaire (Q1) was made available to all former NFL players in early 2015 and remains open to participation today. The goal of this questionnaire is to collect information on the total group, or cohort, of former professional NFL players to better understand the health impact of a professional football career. The questionnaire collects information on demographic characteristics, health conditions, physical function and ability, and mental well-being. To date, over 4,000 former players have participated, making the Football Players Health Study the largest study of living former players ever conducted. This questionnaire is advancing our overall understanding of player health while also providing important baseline data for the development of further research. Former NFL players can participate.
Second Health and Wellness Questionnaire (Q2) The Second Health and Wellness Questionnaire (Q2) is a follow-up to Q1 that further explores those areas of health that former players have identified as most critical. It additionally evaluates how health changes over time and gathers more detailed information on football exposure. Specific areas of focus include cardiovascular health, neurocognitive function, pain management, and other conditions commonly experienced by former players. This questionnaire also explores factors beyond football, knowing that many different aspects of life may impact player health.

Q2 is now open to those who completed the First Health and Wellness Questionnaire in 2015 or 2016. Those who completed Q1 after 2016 will receive Q2 at a later time.
Brain Health Study
Principal Investigators Laura Germine, PhD, McLean Hospital

Alvaro Pascual-Leone, MD, PhD, Harvard Medical School
Summary The purpose of this research is to gain a better understanding of brain health in former professional football players. Through a series of online assessments that evaluate memory, attention, personality and temperament, this study collects data on individuals’ ability to think and process information. The study is currently open to former NFL players and offers personalized feedback following the completion of assessments. This research is in collaboration with TestMyBrain, a not-for-profit brain and mind initiative at Harvard Medical School. Along with the Football Players Health Study’s concurrent initiatives, this web-based assessment is intended to collect information that will improve our overall understanding of the health impact of undertaking a professional football career. Former NFL players can participate.
Personal Networks of Football Players: Association with Functional, Cardiac, and Cognitive Outcomes
Principal Investigators Amar Dhand, MD, DPhil, Brigham and Women's Hospital

Alvaro Pascual-Leone, MD, PhD, Harvard Medical School

Albert-László Barabási, PhD, Robert Gray Dodge Professor of Network Science and a Distinguished University Professor, Northeastern University
Summary Retired NFL football players experience changes to their social life due to transitions away from a team environment, change of leisure activities, and need to re-define relationships with family and friends. The resulting personal networks affect physical health and the aging process. This targeted study aims to characterize the personal networks of former football players using a web-based survey, and look for links with cognitive, cardiac, and functional outcomes. Former NFL players can participate.

Health and Wellness Initiative

Health and Wellness Initiative
First Health and Wellness Questionnaire (Q1) Our First Health and Wellness Questionnaire (Q1) was made available to all former NFL players in early 2015 and remains open to participation today. The goal of this questionnaire is to collect information on the total group, or cohort, of former professional NFL players to better understand the health impact of a professional football career. The questionnaire collects information on demographic characteristics, health conditions, physical function and ability, and mental well-being. To date, over 4,000 former players have participated, making the Football Players Health Study the largest study of living former players ever conducted. This questionnaire is advancing our overall understanding of player health while also providing important baseline data for the development of further research. Former NFL players can participate.
Second Health and Wellness Questionnaire (Q2) The Second Health and Wellness Questionnaire (Q2) is a follow-up to Q1 that further explores those areas of health that former players have identified as most critical. It additionally evaluates how health changes over time and gathers more detailed information on football exposure. Specific areas of focus include cardiovascular health, neurocognitive function, pain management, and other conditions commonly experienced by former players. This questionnaire also explores factors beyond football, knowing that many different aspects of life may impact player health.

Q2 is now open to those who completed the First Health and Wellness Questionnaire in 2015 or 2016. Those who completed Q1 after 2016 will receive Q2 at a later time.
Personal Networks of Football Players: Association with Functional, Cardiac, and Cognitive Outcomes
Principal Investigators Amar Dhand, MD, DPhil, Brigham and Women's Hospital

Alvaro Pascual-Leone, MD, PhD, Harvard Medical School

Albert-László Barabási, PhD, Robert Gray Dodge Professor of Network Science and a Distinguished University Professor, Northeastern University
Summary Retired NFL football players experience changes to their social life due to transitions away from a team environment, change of leisure activities, and need to re-define relationships with family and friends. The resulting personal networks affect physical health and the aging process. This targeted study aims to characterize the personal networks of former football players using a web-based survey, and look for links with cognitive, cardiac, and functional outcomes. Former NFL players can participate.
In-Person Assessments
Principle Investigator Aaron Baggish, MD, Massachusetts General Hospital
Summary The In-Person Assessment Study reflects the initial findings from the First Health and Wellness Questionnaire (Q1) and focuses on four areas of player health that have been identified as critical: cardiovascular function, neurocognitive health, pain, and physical function and sleep. Through a series of head-to-toe evaluations conducted at Harvard-affiliated hospitals, this study aims to provide novel insights into these specific health domains while improving our overall understanding of the impact of playing professional football.

Brain Function

Brain Health Study
Principal Investigators Laura Germine, PhD, McLean Hospital

Alvaro Pascual-Leone, MD, PhD, Harvard Medical School
Summary The purpose of this research is to gain a better understanding of brain health in former professional football players. Through a series of online assessments that evaluate memory, attention, personality and temperament, this study collects data on individuals’ ability to think and process information. The study is currently open to former NFL players and offers personalized feedback following the completion of assessments. This research is in collaboration with TestMyBrain, a not-for-profit brain and mind initiative at Harvard Medical School. Along with the Football Players Health Study’s concurrent initiatives, this web-based assessment is intended to collect information that will improve our overall understanding of the health impact of undertaking a professional football career. Former NFL players can participate.
A Prospective Controlled Treatment Trial for Post-Traumatic Headaches
Principal Investigators Alyssa Lebel, MD, Boston Children’s Hospital

Alexandra M. Stillman, MD, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center
Summary Post-traumatic headaches (PTH) are the most common complaint of football-related traumatic brain injury, possibly generated by a number of stressors. This study aims to conduct a controlled treatment trial to evaluate the efficacy of medications and minimally invasive nerve block interventions as treatments for PTH and neck pain in adolescents and adults with PTH aged 16-35 years of age.

Pain and Mobility

Martha Murray, MD
Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) Repair – A Novel Treatment for ACL Injuries
Principal Investigator Martha Murray, MD, Boston Children’s Hospital
Summary In 2013, NFL players suffered approximately 65 anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tears. Currently, the torn ACL cannot heal itself and needs, instead, to be reconstructed by a surgeon. Even with reconstruction, many athletes do not return to their prior level of performance, often ending their careers shortly after an ACL tear. Furthermore, the risk of osteoarthritis after an ACL tear, even with successful ACL reconstruction, is approximately 80% within 14 years. Murray, a Harvard researcher, has been working on an innovative solution that allows the torn ACL to heal itself by using a bridge or scaffold to hold blood products in between the two torn ends of the ACL long enough for surrounding cells to grow into and reunite the separated ends. In animal studies using Murray’s technique, not only does the ACL heal itself, but there is no resulting osteoarthritis. With support from the Football Players Health Study at Harvard, in addition to other funding, Dr. Murray has translated her technique from the laboratory and launched the first ever clinical trial with full approval from the Federal Drug Administration.
Jeffrey Karp, PhD
An Inflammation Responsive Hydrogel Depot for On-Demand Drug Delivery in Treatment of Post-traumatic Osteoarthritis (PTOA) in Football Players
Principal Investigators Jeffrey Karp, PhD, Brigham and Women’s Hospital

Joerg Ermann, MD, Brigham and Women’s Hospital
Summary The proposed study aims to develop a disease modifying, self-titrating and intra-articular therapy for the treatment of post-traumatic osteoarthritis (PTOA). This will involve the development of inflammation responsive hydrogels for delivery of disease modifying agents. Such an autonomous and biologically driven disease modifying therapy may significantly impact the health of former, current, future football players, and other athletes who are at significant risk of developing joint degenerative PTOA.

Treating inflammatory arthritis with hydrogel
Goal-Directed Resilience Training to Mitigate Chronic Pain in Former Football Players
Principal Investigators Ross Zafonte, DO, Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital

Herman Taylor, MD, MPH, FACC, FAHA, Morehouse School of Medicine
Summary Chronic pain, due to years of intense training and performance, threatens quality of life, and the culture of elite athletes is not well adapted to the chronic condition of pain. This targeted study will develop a remote assessment strategy to identify former players who may benefit from strategies to build skills that improve self-management and experience of chronic pain, and a skill building intervention to identify the potential benefits for those at high risk. Innovative strategies will be created that are both culturally acceptable and effective to help former football players overcome the physical pain that commonly results from years of intense training and performance. The study will be conducted out of the Atlanta area.

Sleep

Developing a Scalable Sleep Health Intervention to Improve Pain, Quality of Life, and Health in Football Players
Principal Investigators Suzanne Bertisch, MD, MPH, Harvard Medical School and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center

Susan Redline, MD, MPH, Peter C. Farrell Professor of Sleep Medicine, Harvard Medical School, Brigham and Women's Hospital, and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center
Summary Sleep plays a fundamental role in multiple aspects of health and wellness, including pain, mood, heart health, and quality of life. The primary aim of this study is to adapt a brief web-based, sleep health intervention for former NFL players, and to evaluate its impact on sleep health, and through this on pain and other health-related outcomes. This is a targeted population study – focusing on former football players with poor sleep and related medical conditions, including daily pain, mood problems, and cardiac disability. The long-term goal of this targeted study is to develop a program that will not only help improve sleep, but will also decrease pain and improve daily functioning and quality of life among players on a large scale.