The N.F.L. said Thursday that the number of concussions had fallen 11.3 percent this season, compared with last season’s record high, as more players reported suspected head injuries and medical spotters at games pulled more athletes aside for examination.
The league has for years tried to reduce concussions by introducing an array of measures, such as altering kickoffs, limiting the number of full-contact practices and adding extra medical personnel at games. Yet in the five years since statistics on concussions have been published, the decline has been more modest, 6.5 percent, to 244 concussions this season, from 261 in 2012. The league’s numbers encompass concussions sustained during practices and games from the preseason and the regular season.
On a conference call with reporters, a panel of medical experts who work with the league said they were heartened by the declines, but they acknowledged that more work was needed to reduce further the number of concussions.
“I was encouraged that the numbers are down, but I’m still far from satisfied,” said Dr. Mitchel S. Berger, a member of the N.F.L.’s head, neck and spine committee. “As a health care provider, I think one of our absolute highest priorities is to get these numbers further down.”
The league said that since it began releasing concussion statistics, the number of concussions in preseason practices had declined the most, while the number in games had declined only marginally.
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The league said some of its initiatives had helped account for the biggest declines, like the limits on the number of full-contact practices that were introduced in the latest labor deal, in 2011. The number of concussions in practices in the preseason, when players on expanded rosters are fighting for jobs, fell to 26 this season, from 42 in 2012.
But the league has had a harder time explaining why the number of concussions over all has not changed as drastically. The number of concussions in preseason games, for instance, rose to 45, from 43 five years ago.
Part of the problem facing the league is identifying concussions in real time. In theory, a decline in concussions can mean that fewer players are being concussed or that fewer players are stepping forward to admit they have been. Some players who self-report an injury might also turn out not to be concussed.
William B. Barr, the director of the neuropsychology division at the N.Y.U. School of Medicine and a former neuropsychology consultant for the Jets, said that the increased scrutiny on concussions should lead to a long-term increase in the number of reported cases.
“What this tells me, that you would expect them to report more, and they’re not,” he said. “I don’t see these numbers as significantly different from previous numbers.”
The league also admitted that its concussion protocols, which it has enhanced several times, have flaws. On Wednesday, the league said that the Miami Dolphins’ medical staff did not follow the concussion protocol in a playoff game against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Jan. 8.
In that game, Dolphins quarterback Matt Moore was hit in the mouth and chin by the helmet of Steelers linebacker Bud Dupree, who was penalized for roughing the passer. Despite the ferocity of the hit, Moore re-entered the game after one play.
According to the league, the Dolphins’ team doctor “took appropriate steps” to consult with the independent neurologist on the sideline and to review video of the play. The league said that Moore did not “demonstrate any concussion symptoms either during or at any time following the game.”
The Dolphins’ doctor and the independent sideline doctor, however, did not recognize that Moore was bleeding from the mouth, and let him return to the game.