With the heightened awareness of the long-term risks of concussions and other impacts to the brain in football, parents and young athletes have turned to football helmets as a means of protection. Helmet manufacturers continue to incorporate new materials and technology into these helmets to offer more protection. So far, no research has shown that these newer helmets actually lead to lower rates of concussions.
Rather than focusing on the latest helmet technology, football players and their parents should focus on a simpler aspect of the helmet. Make sure the helmet fits properly.
Data on concussion symptoms and severity with poorly fitting helmets
In a recent study looking at concussions in high school football, Dustin A. Greenhill, M.D. and others studied the role of improper helmet fit. They looked at the 4580 concussions collected through the National High School Sports-Related Injury Surveillance System. Then they specifically analyzed the 3172 cases of those concussions for which they had data regarding the concussed athlete’s helmet.
Concussed athletes whose helmets did not fit properly had higher numbers of symptoms than did those whose helmets fit. Specifically, they had higher rates of drowsiness, sensitivity to noise and hyperexcitability.
Concussed athletes whose helmets were poorly fitting also experienced symptoms for longer than one week much more often than did concussed athletes whose helmets did fit properly.
Take home points about football helmet fit and concussions
While football helmets cannot prevent every brain injury, making sure they fit is essential. Athletes should work with coaches and athletic trainers or equipment managers at the beginning of the season to get a helmet that fits correctly for the size of their heads.
They also need to check the helmet fit throughout the season. Helmet fit can change if the athlete wears extra layers under the helmet to stay warm late in the fall season. The athlete might shave his head, causing the helmet to become loose. The helmet might even slide around more than normal when it rains or the player sweats a lot. Plus, helmets with air bladders can leak, affecting fit and protection.
A young athlete should check the fit of his helmet every time he puts it on to ensure that it fits his head correctly. Coaches, equipment managers and athletic trainers can inspect each athlete’s helmet – not just at the beginning of the season, but also at regular points throughout the season.
Also listen to the discussions from The Dr. David Geier Show:
Episode 93: Can new football helmet designs decrease the risk of concussions?
Episode 164: Do the brand and age of the football helmet affect concussions in football?
Parents, do you check the fit of your son’s football helmet regularly? How can teams do a better job of making sure each player has a properly fitting helmet? I would love to hear your thoughts below!
Greenhill DA, Navo P, Zhao H, Torg J, Comstock RD, Boden BP. Inadequate Helmet Fit Increases Concussion Severity in American High School Football Players. Sports Health. 2016 Mar 22. [Epub ahead of print]