Head Injury

Helmet add-ons may not reduce risk of concussion in athletes, study finds



While the sporting industry continues to cash in on equipment that promises to reduce the risk of player injury, a new study on helmet add-ons suggests that the buyer should beware.

The study conducted by Florida’s BRAINS Inc. and presented at the American Academy of Neurology, tested four different sporting technologies targeting football helmets that are sold on the premise of reducing head injuries.

A concussion, a type of traumatic brain injury (TBI), can be caused by a bump, blow or jolt to the head, or by a blow to the body that causes the head and brain to move rapidly back and forth, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The sudden movement can cause the brain to bounce around or twist in the skull, stretching and damaging brain cells which may create chemical changes in the brain.

Researchers used a crash test dummy head and neck to simulate head impact by modifying the standard drop test system approved by the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment. Sensors were placed in the dummy’s head to measure linear and angular rotational responses to helmet impacts at 10, 12 and 14 miles per hour.

They then evaluated four football helmet add-ons currently on the market: Guardian Cap, UnEqual Technologies’ Concussion Reduction Technology, Shockstrips and Helmet Glide. Each technology was placed on the Riddell Revolution Speed and Xenith X1 football helmet and impacted five times from drop heights of 1.0, 1.5 and 2.0 meters.

Researchers found that while the helmet add-ons reduced linear acceleration impact by about 11 percent, they only reduced angular acceleration impact by 2 percent. The Helmet Glide was even shown to have no effect on either.

“Currently helmets and helmet add-ons are only designed to reduce the linear acceleration, not the angular acceleration. The linear acceleration is responsible for the contusion injuries on the brain, skull fractures and bruising on the head. Angular accelerations are the forces associated with concussions,” study author Dr. John Llyod, the research director at BRAINS Inc. and board certified ergonomist and brain injury specialist in Florida, told FoxNews.com. 

The researchers noted that manufactures do not test the angular metric of injury prevention-based sporting equipment, but also that the add-ons do not have any negative affect on a player.

“The main issue with the add-ons is if you as a parent or even as an individual walk into Sports Authority or Dick’s Sporting, you ask ‘What are these for?’ and [salesmen] are going to say ‘They’re for preventing concussions,’” study co-author Dr. Francis Conidi, assistant professor of neurology at Florida State University College of Medicine and concussion specialist told FoxNews.com.

“First and most importantly, their intent is to market them to prevent concussions and they’re not training the individuals selling the devices. The parents are getting a false sense of safety, while the results show they offer little to no protection of concussion,” Conidi said.

Conidi explained that a concussion is more-so a whiplash-type injury than a straight-on impact, which is what the linear testing measures.

“If I hit you straight on with a baseball bat, I would not induce concussion,” he said. “I would probably fracture your skull, but I would not concuss it.”

“It’s really the angular and rotational mechanism of the skull that causes the tearing of brain cells, which causes the ion cells to leak out,” Conidi said.

The researchers conclude that because there is no device on the market right now that adequately protects an athlete against a concussion, athletes must be taught proper tackling techniques from an early age.

Conidi, who has treated numerous athletes of all levels for concussions, suggested working with the athlete to strengthen the cervical muscles so the head doesn’t bend to the side or rotate as easily.

“Most importantly, be educated on the signs and symptoms, especially the athletes themselves, and the parents and coaches. When in doubt, sit them out,” he said.

Currently, an estimated 173,285 sports and recreation-related TBIs are treated among children and adolescents in the U.S. each year. According to the CDC, for males aged 10-19 years, sports-and recreation-related TBIs occurred most often while playing football or bicycling.

The study’s authors hope their findings will lead to more rigorous testing of helmets and add-ons.