Ex-NFL players use app to tackle health problems

Harvard University and the NFL Players Association create an app they hope will illustrate how injuries have affected former players.

Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire/Corbis

As the concussion issue has made clear, the game takes its toll.

Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire/Corbis

Do ex-NFL players really know how banged up their bodies are? Their iPhones might help.

Medical researchers at Harvard University have created an app that lets former players share how on-field injuries may still be affecting their brains and bodies.

Ex-players spend about 20 minutes a week with the app, called TeamStudy, recording their pain tolerance, mobility and memory. The broader public is also encouraged to use the app so researchers can compare the health of nonathletes to that of the former players.

"We want to get as much specific data on how a player's health may affect their well-being over the course of their lives," said Dr. Alvaro Pascual-Leone, a Harvard neurology professor and TeamStudy's lead investigator. The app's anonymity might allow researchers to attract players who would otherwise be reluctant to discuss chronic aches and pains, he said.

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George Wrighster is among several ex-NFL players involved with creating the TeamStudy app. The app is part of a Harvard University research study on the health of former football players.

Harvard University

TeamStudy debuts as the health and safety of pro football players continues to make headlines. Last April, the NFL agreed to a $1 billion settlement after more than 5,000 retired players sued the league for allegedly hiding health risks linked to concussions and head trauma. Many players have rejected the settlement.

Last week, Jeff Miller, the NFL's top health and safety official, told a congressional committee there's a link between football and CTE, chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a disease believed to result from brain trauma. CTE has symptoms including memory loss and depression.

Earlier this week, The New York Times reported that the NFL's concussion research used flawed data and omitted widely known concussions suffered by hall-of-fame players. The NFL disputes the Times story.

TeamStudy, available in Apple's App Store as of last week, is part of the Football Players Health Study at Harvard, a program that examines the health of former NFL players. More than 3,000 ex-players are part of the study, which is funded by the NFL Players Association, the official union that represents players.

George Wrighster, a former tight end with the Jacksonville Jaguars who suffered at least three concussions during his career, says getting players to discuss their injuries remains a challenge.

"It may be humbling to say you're still in pain and not as tough as you used to be," said Wrighster, 34, who deals with chronic neck and back pain. "Hopefully, this will give them an outlet where they can be open and honest about what they're going through."

The TeamStudy app collects data when participants perform simple physical activities, such as walking. They're also asked to respond to questions about the ability to focus.

The app was built using ResearchKit, Apple's year-old software platform that allows medical institutions to conduct research through iPhones.

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