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These are all common questions that we get from sports organizations, parents and athletes.
But, the short answer to all these is… No. Not, yet.
As of this blog post, equipment like helmets, mouth guards, neck guards and other protective apparel CANNOT fully prevent or protect against a concussion, or reduce the incidence rate.
Let us tell you why.
Concussion is an acceleration injury
A concussion is a mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI) caused by a hit, blow or jolt to the head, or by a hit to the body that causes the head to quickly move back and forth.
This movement causes the brain to accelerate or decelerate inside the skull at a fast rate, creating changes in the brain. This is what causes a concussion.
But, concussions are not always caused by a hit to the head.
Falling on your back, a shoulder-to-shoulder tackle or whiplash from a car crash can also cause this acceleration of the brain. As long as there is enough force transmitted to the head, you can suffer a concussion.
So, why doesn’t a helmet work to prevent concussions?
Well, put it this way. If a concussion is caused by the brain moving around inside skull, how can a helmet worn on your head protect against this?
It can’t. Not yet anyway. Helmets of any kind have not been found to demonstrate a significant change in head acceleration when compared to no helmet, or other types of helmets.
Do helmets cause more concussions?
This is an interesting debate. One study shows that helmet-to-helmet collisions were the most common contact mechanism in football concussions. Also, it’s commonly thought that players wearing protective gear may participate in riskier behavior on the field due to a false sense of protection. Therefore, could it be possible that improving protective gear actually puts them more at risk? We’ll save that debate for another time.
But, make sure you wear a helmet
Helmets were never meant to protect against concussion, but they can protect against more severe head injuries.
Hard helmets have shown to protect against impact injuries – such as a direct hit to the head – and can reduce the risk of cuts, scrapes, scratches, skull fractures or bleeding in the brain.
Most helmets have a hard outer shell and inner layer of foam or other softer material.
The outer shell is made to dissipate force, and spread the impact of the force over a larger area.
Rather than creating a centre point of impact – which could cause the skull to break or fracture – the helmet spreads out the surface area of that impact. It helps to reduce the amount of force on the skull itself. At the same time, the materials on the inside reduce the peak impact by absorbing some of the impact.
Helmets do little to address the rotational forces, and stretching and shearing of brain cells. The brain inside that skull will still undergo acceleration and/or deceleration and, therefore, still has the potential to cause a concussion.
But, we’ll say it again.
Please make sure you wear a helmet as recommended, and during activities with the potential for head impact with hard objects. This includes football, hockey, cycling, skiing, motor sports, snowboarding, and many others.
Make sure your helmet is used properly:
Get the right size
Wear it with all the straps connected to the right places
Make sure it fits comfortable with the pads are in the right position
If there is a chin strap, put it on properly
If it’s cracked, damaged OR old, get a new one (at least every 2 – 3 years)
Look for an approval sticker from your local health and safety organizations
Complete Concussions specializes in collaborative, evidence-based concussion care. Our evidence-based training programs and integrated healthcare technologies empower multidisciplinary teams to implement standardized care for those impacted by concussions. Our network and patient database enables large-scale research to advance concussion management, and ultimately, the long-term health and well-being of concussion patients.
We analyze leading research to develop best-in-class approaches to concussion care.