Is there such a thing as an anti-concussion football helmet? With fall season underway, I have been receiving questions from parents about the new high technology football helmets, mainly “Will it prevent my child from getting a concussion?”
Football helmets have evolved from nothing more than leather padding to materials like metal and plastic that provide protection against high-impact collisions that cause catastrophic head injuries, like skull fractures and bleeds (subdural hematomas).
Most football helmets today are made of stiff polycarbonate shells lined with dense foam padding. Some have pneumatic padding within the suspension liners, while others have an inflating system meant to ensure proper fit.
These helmets are effective in reducing the risk of severe, traumatic brain injuries such as skull fractures and bleeds, but they are not effective in responding to the lower-impact collisions responsible for concussions.
Today, helmet technology is aimed at reducing the risk of concussion. At the forefront are manufacturers such as Riddell, Schutt, Adams and Xenith.
For example, the Xenith X1 helmet ditched the typical in-helmet foam padding for air filled shock absorbers that work like air bags in cars. Several research studies provided evidence that these newer helmets reduce the impact forces to the brain, but these results have not translated into observed differences in the rate or severity of concussions.
Research on these helmets also did not take into consideration the rotational acceleration during collision, which is believed to be the most important factor in concussive episodes.
So remember, there is no magic football helmet that can prevent concussions yet.
Until further research is done, the most effective tools for minimizing the risk of concussion continue to be improved concussion education, proper helmet fitting and proper tackling techniques.
Remember to talk to your coach or athletic trainer about concussions to be sure you are all on the same page.
Written by: Quynh Hoang, MD, CAQSM, Pediatric Primary Care Sports Medicine Assistant Professor, Department of Orthopedics, Children’s Hospital Colorado.