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Helmet Design is Not the Most Crucial Factor in Preventing Concussions

Tim Boyer's picture
Sports Helmet

Research shows that buying your child the latest design in athletic helmet is not the most crucial factor in preventing a concussion.

News about the long lasting and cumulative effects of concussions on older adult athletes as well as children have highlighted the need for more studies on factors such as helmet design on the effects of head injuries on the playing field that result in loss of consciousness or seemingly more minor symptoms such as temporary dizziness and nausea.

These news reports are reflected by a survey from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that found that reports of concussions in emergency rooms are up 60 percent.

In a recent study presented at the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine's Specialty Day in San Francisco, researchers show that when it comes to preventing concussions on the football field that proper helmet fit is the most important factor.

In the study, researchers analyzed reports from 1,398 concussion events involving children playing football. The data they analyzed is a collection of reports from the National High School Sports-Related Injury Surveillance System using High School RIO.

High School RIO (Reporting Information Online) is an internet-based data collection tool that tabulates injury-related info data weekly throughout the academic year using certified athletic trainers as data reporters.

The internet-based reporting tool collects useful data such as:

• Athletic exposure (number of athlete practices and number of athletic competitions per week)
• Injury (body site, diagnosis, severity, etc.)
• Injury event (mechanism, activity, position/event, field/court location, etc.)

In the study, the researchers used data that focused on loss of consciousness (LOC) and amnesia to determine concussion severity experienced by youths on the football field. From the data they found that 44 individuals experienced LOC and 267 experienced some form of amnesia. Statistical analysis was then used to calculate odds ratios for loss of consciousness based on athlete age, helmet fit, inner helmet padding systems and helmet condition (new vs. reconditioned.)

What they found was that the fit of the helmet on the head was more important than the helmet’s design or whether it was a new helmet versus an old, reconditioned helmet.

According to study co-author Joseph Torg, MD of Temple University in Philadelphia, PA, "Athletes wearing properly fitted helmets, as reported by team certified athletic trainers, were 82% less likely to experience loss of consciousness (LOC) with a concussion. Helmet age and condition, (new vs. reconditione) were not significant predictors of amnesia or LOC," he states.

The authors of the study believe that current data indicates that a poorly fitting helmet and improperly inflated air bladder lining may be associated with both concussion and intracranial hemorrhage injury to young football players.

"As we look at preventing concussions and minimizing risk, it is important to realize that it is the responsibility of the athletic director and head football coach to have policies that insure that each player has a properly fitted helmet and that a responsible adult supervises and oversees proper helmet air bladder inflation on a weekly basis," says Torg.

The following steps for ensuring a proper fitting of your child’s football helmet is from Sports Medicine of Atlanta and is provided in its entirety below:

Proper Fitting of Youth Football Helmet

An improperly fitting or improperly worn football helmet increases the chance of serious injury. The following guidelines are suggested in an effort to unable the football helmet to do its intended job of protection. If you have a football player in your household, clip this article out so that you can utilize these guidelines in verifying the appropriateness of the football helmet’s fit.

1. Always fit the football helmet with a normal length of hair. If the athlete was fitted while having long hair and then gets a haircut that removes a significantly length of hair, the helmet fit should be readjusted.

2. Watch for variations in head shape, such as a long, oval head or an extra large projecting bone.

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3. Check to be sure that those helmets having air bladders are inflated properly and maintain their inflation. Always check the inflation of the helmet at an air temperature in which the athlete intends to participate. Air temperature can vary the fit of a football helmet and should therefore be checked in the playing environment’s air temperature.

4. Have the player put his thumbs in the ears of the helmet and hold the helmet up alongside the head with the fingers.

5. Pull the helmet directly overhead, tilted back, and rotated down in front by pulling it into position.

6. Check visually to see that the fit is correct.

7. Have the player hold his head straight forward, try to turn the helmet on his head. If the fit is correct, the helmet should turn only slightly.

8. Observe visually for proper crown adjustment. It should be about 1 finger breath above the eyebrow.

9. Ask the player to overlap his hands directly on top of the helmet. While he exerts a pressure straight down, ask if he feels pressure on the top of his head against the rubber crown, or if all pressure is against the forehead. If it is against the forehead, the helmet is too low and should be adjusted to the proper position.

10. The neck band should be snug and properly positioned. A loose neckband permits the helmet to rock forward.

11. The jaw pad should fit the jaw snugly and prevent lateral rocking of the helmet.

12. Adjust the chin strap to a tight position with equal tension on both sides. This will keep the mouth shut and maintain proper position.

13. Make sure that the chin strap release is under pressure. It should never be locked in.

14. Remove the helmet and recheck to be sure that all air bladders are full with air.

15. Enter the player’s name or number in the helmet and record this information to insure that each player wears his own custom fit helmet.

16. Be sure the face guard attachments allow 2 inches of clearance between the nose and face mask.

17. Procedures for different types of helmets can be obtained from helmet dealers.

18. Be certain the face guard attachments are constructed of material that is easily cut with a knife should rapid removal of the face mask be necessary.

The recent finding that shows that helmet design is not the most crucial factor in preventing concussions is just one part of a larger movement toward preventing injuries in children while playing sports. For more info on sport injury prevention, visit stopsportsinjuries.org for details on what you can do to protect your child.

Image Source: Courtesy of MorgueFile

Reference: The American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine news release