Which Football Helmet is Best for Concussions?

UW Health Sports Medicine: Two football playersMadison, Wis. – Parents of high school football players can spend a few hundred dollars on elaborate helmets manufactured by Riddell, Schutt or Xenith.


They can lay out another $30 on designer mouthguards in an attempt to prevent their sons from joining the 40,000 high school football players who annually suffer concussions.


But it wouldn't be money well-spent, according to a recently-published UW Health Sports Medicine study.


"We were getting questions from coaches and parents about helmet companies saying their helmets can prevent concussions," says Dr. Alison Brooks, one of the study's authors. "There is no compelling evidence that any specific brand or type of helmet or mouth guard significantly reduces concussion risk."


Dr. Brooks and senior scientist and research Tim McGuine, PhD, studied 1,332 athletes at 36 schools during the 2012 football season.


Before practice began they had each player answer a questionnaire to determine their concussion histories. Then, with the help of school athletic trainers, they tracked the incidence of sports-related concussions statewide during practice and games.


One-hundred fifteen football players sustained sports-related concussions during the season, but Brooks' and McGuine's research showed that neither the helmet brand - Riddell, Schutt or Xenith, the three companies that supply the vast majority of helmets used in high school football in Wisconsin - nor the helmet's age correlated with injury risk.


The study showed the risk for concussion didn't differ in a statistically significant way, no matter which helmet the players wore.


And the more expensive, custom-fitted mouthguards preferred by some players (and parents) actually posed greater risks for concussions than the cheaper version handed out by schools to each player.


That's not to say proper, functional equipment isn't important. All high school football teams are required to give players helmets certified by the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association (WIAA), and those helmets are subjected to rigorous testing and are great at preventing skull fractures, says McGuine. 


"The helmet technology is advanced as it can be. They've done a wonderful job. We don't have skull fractures in football," he said in a presentation to the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine. "But I don't know how much padding can be put in to prevent the brain from sloshing around inside the cranium."


"Helmets remain an important piece of safety equipment and should be properly fitted," adds Dr. Brooks. "Mouthguards remain an important piece of safety equipment to prevent dental injuries."


But Brooks' and McGuine's study suggests greater expense shouldn't be confused with increased safety. High school football players will likely fare as well with the equipment their schools provide as they would with pricey helmets and mouthguards. 


The study, in fact, underscores the WIAA's own stated policy regarding concussions.


"There is nothing that truly prevents concussion. Proper equipment fit and use may reduce the risk of concussion. However, helmets do not prevent concussion."

Date Published: 07/17/2013

News tag(s):  sports

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