It is no secret that concussions are a major problem in all levels of sports today. In part due to recent media attention, efforts aimed at decreasing the number and severity of concussions have been adopted. Such measures include penalties for blows to the head in football, mandating physician clearance prior to return to play, and improving the education of athletes and coaches about the dangers of concussions. And recently attention has shifted to helmet technology with the hopes that improved helmet designs could improve player safety. Proper football helmet fit matters too.
A new study presented at the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine Specialty Day in San Francisco, California examined concussions that occurred in high school sports and attempted to correlate them with helmet characteristics. Researchers at Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, led by Joseph Torg, M.D., reviewed the reports of 1,398 concussions collected by the national High School Sports-Related Injury Surveillance System. They subsequently examined athletic trainer data from those concussions, including whether the athlete suffered amnesia or loss of consciousness. They also reviewed data regarding helmet fit, helmet padding systems, helmet condition, and athlete age for each concussion.
The authors found that proper football helmet fit was the main factor associated with concussion severity. “Athletes wearing properly fitted helmets, as reported by team certified athletic trainers, were 82% less likely to experience loss of consciousness with a concussion,” noted Dr. Torg. He pointed out that helmet age and condition, whether new or reconditioned, did not prove to be predictors for loss of consciousness or amnesia in a concussion. Tweet this statistic.
From my perspective as a sports medicine physician and team physician, this study is at least somewhat encouraging. After all, ensuring that football players have proper fitting helmets is a variable that we can control. Athletic trainers and coaches can check the helmets every week and ensure that the each player’s helmet fits properly and that the air bladder lining is properly inflated. While these checks might or might not decrease the absolute numbers of concussions, they do seem to be appropriate measures to decrease the severity of the head injuries.
Somewhat concerning is the opinion of these authors that there is no definitive data to show that newer helmet technology and designs actually provide more protection against concussions or intracranial hemorrhage. So while researchers continue to examine newer, expensive helmet designs, I would recommend that parents first talk to their children’s football coaches and athletic trainers and ensure that proper football helmet fit measures are in place.
“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,” argued Dr. Torg.