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Football Helmet Study Finds Brand, Year of Manufacture Don't Offset Concussion Risk

Oct 31, 2013

Buying football headgear for its brand name does not increase a player’s level of protection against concussion, according to new research presented at the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) National Conference and Exhibition in Orlando, Florida.

Football helmet makers have advertised their wares as capable of minimizing the risk for concussion; however, "[d]espite what manufacturers might claim, newer and more expensive equipment may not reduce concussion risk,” study lead co-investigator Dr. Margaret Alison Brooks, MD, MPH, FAAP, said in a news release. “So is it worth the significant extra cost to families and schools?"

The researchers followed 1,332 high school football players from 36 schools during the 2012 football season. The teens wore helmets from one of three manufacturers: Riddell, Schutt, or Xenith, wrote FoxNews. Of the total, 115 players (or 8.5 percent) suffered a sports-related injury.

Overall, about 40,000 sports-related concussions are reported in U.S. high schools each year, according to Counsel and Beal.

FoxNews reported that no links were found between concussion rates and a helmet’s brand or year of manufacture. A total of 52 percent of the helmets in the study were manufactured by Riddell; 35 percent, by Schutt; and 13 percent, by Xenith. Most—39 percent—were purchased in 2011-2013; 33 percent, in 2009-2010; and 28 percent, in 2002-2008, according to Counsel and Beal.

The study also found that 61 percent of the players in the study wore generic mouth guards and 39 percent wore mouth guards that were either custom-fitted by dental professionals or marketed as able to minimize the risk of concussion, Counsel and Beal reported. Surprisingly, players who wore custom-fitted mouth guards faced an increased likelihood of suffering from a sports-related concussion compared to players wearing generic mouth guards.

While helmets can help to prevent skull fractures and scalp lacerations, concussions—from the Latin concutere ("to shake violently")—by their very nature are another matter. "Because the brain is floating freely inside the skull, I think most experts doubt whether it is possible to ever develop a helmet design that can prevent concussion," Brookes pointed out, according to Counsel and Beal.

Since 2003, 25 deaths have been reported involving football players from American high schools, according to the National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury Research at the University of North Carolina, previously reported. About 1.1 million teenagers played high school football in the U.S. in 2012, according to the report, which also indicated that 4.2 million players participated in the sport that year, from the youth to NFL level.

Claims that a helmet is “concussion-proof” or is constructed of “anti-concussive” properties could be misleading, New York Attorney General (AG) Eric T. Schneiderman recently said, according to Law360. He added that such claims could also be potentially dangerous to players and their parents. Some manufacturers are touting so-called “aftermarket add-on” products for football helmets, such as liners, bumpers, pads and electronic devices that claim to diminish the danger of concussion. At the same time, no data exists at present to prove these claims are legitimate for younger players, Schneiderman said, according to Law360.

“Football helmets were developed to protect against massive head trauma, but unfortunately, we’re seeing more evidence they have not been designed to prevent less immediately catastrophic injuries like concussions,” said Long Island Republican State Senator Kemp Hannon, who sponsored state legislation that became effective in 2012 that mandates coaches, teachers, and other relevant personnel undergo training to be able to differentiate symptoms of mild brain injuries from traumatic ones that require critical medical care, explained Law360.

“It’s important to remember that no helmet can fully prevent a concussion,” Schneiderman said. “Just as important, we must work to educate young athletes and their parents about how to reduce the risk of concussion and detect early warning signs on the field.”

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