Do High-Tech Helmets Prevent Concussions?

Quynh Hoang

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.

Read more about concussion care and prevention from Children’s Hospital Colorado.

Written by: Quynh Hoang, MD, CAQSM, Pediatric Primary Care Sports Medicine Assistant Professor, Department of Orthopedics, Children’s Hospital Colorado.

5 comments to Do High-Tech Helmets Prevent Concussions?

  • Anil Patel

    December 30, 2011

    Dear Dr. Hoang:

    Hello. My name is Anil Patel, and I am an eighth grade student at Edgar Middle School in Metuchen, New Jersey. The topic I am researching is injury prevention in football. I found your name during my research and thought you could help me by answering a few brief questions. Thanks you in advance for your time and cooperation. Your answers will be very helpful to my project.
    • What is the best helmet? Why?
    • Should companies include new technology to protect players from serious injuries? Why or why not?
    • What do you think the future of football safety equipment will be? Why?
    • Will new technology affect the number and severity of injuries? If yes, how?

    Thank you again for helping me. Your answers will be invaluable towards my research. If you know of anyone else who might help me I would appreciate if you included their name and contact information in your response.

    Sincerely,

    Anil Patel

  • Quynh Hoang

    First off, big props to you Anil for tackling such an interesting and challenging research project! I think that is great and I hope that you will learn a lot in the process.

    Improvements in helmet design and new helmet technology over the past few years have reduced football related serious head injuries such as skull fractures and bleeds (hematomas). Helmets that are able to attenuate impact energy and reduce the acceleration of the head likely will result in fewer serious head injuries. So yes, I believe the new technology can reduce the number and severity of serious head injuries and would recommend companies to include the new technology with regards to this. However, keep in mind that the new helmet technology does not significantly reduce the risk of concussions- this is still unclear and research is on-going. Unlike skull fractures and bleeds, concussions can be caused by much lower impacts, particularly with rotational accelerations, which is the most important factor. Most research studies look into how well these new technology helmets withstand high impacts that cause skull fractures and bleeds. They do not account for the lower impacts and rotational accelerations that cause concussions. In addition these studies have looked at only adult helmets. Helmets for kids and adolescents have different dimensions and are made of different materials so they will respond differently to the impacts that were tested on adult helmets. So to answer your question, there is no single best helmet to recommend yet that will reduce the risk of concussion. While no helmet can PREVENT concussion, research is currently underway to further investigate how it can REDUCE the risk of concussion. Remember that the most important factor in reducing the risk of concussion has little to do with the type of helmet itself but rather the way the helmet fits the head.

    In terms of other hot topics in football helmet safety equipment for the future, the helmet company Riddell is working with the NFL to evaluate the HIT technology. The HIT system is essentially sensors that are placed inside football helmets that record any head impact. It measures the location, direction and magnitude of any impact an athlete sustains during a practice or game. The information recorded by the helmet is then transmitted to the athletic trainer or doctor to interpret and see if there is a need to evaluate the athlete for signs and symptoms of a concussion. It is very important to point out though that the HIT technology cannot diagnose a head injury but only functions, theoretically, to provide an early warning system that a concussion may have occurred. Even so, data is still currently being gathered to determine how effective this system is.

    We have a team of concussion experts that you can find on our website through the sports medicine program here at Children’s Hospital Colorado. I am sure that they will all be happy to answer any questions you may have as well. I hope this helps and good luck on your project! We would love to hear back from you to see how it turns out.

  • Daniel Youssef

    Hey, can you please answer some questions? It would really be appreciated!
    This is for a project.

    1.What existed before these helmets?
    2.What has changed since the development of these helmets?
    3.How might funding or profits affect these helmets in the future?

    Thank You,
    Daniel Youssef

  • Quynh Hoang

    Thanks Daniel for your questions. Football helmets were historically made of just mere leather padding and then progressed to simple materials like metal and plastic that were meant to help protect against high collision impacts that may lead to skull fractures and bleeds. Today, modern football helmets are made of stiff polycarbonate shells lined with dense foam padding. Some have pneumatic paddings inside, some have built in inflating system to ensure proper fit, while others have ditched the in-helmet foam padding for air filled shock absorbers that work like air bags in cars. Currently, there are huge on-going efforts to continue advancing these helmets in hopes of designing one that can help reduce the risk of concussions. Funding and profits from sales can definitely contribute to these efforts. Research funding thus far certainly has led to more rigorous safety standards and improved quality.

    Good luck with your project.

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