By Tara Haelle
Many athletes, parents and coaches may expect that wearing a helmet can help protect against concussions. They might be surprised.
A recent study found that ten popular football helmets offered very little, if any, protection against concussions.
The helmets did protect against other injury types the equipment was designed for, such as skull fractures.
This study, conducted partly by John Lloyd, MD, director of the Florida Center for Headache and Sports Neurology, looked at what influence football helmets might have on preventing concussions.
The researchers adapted another test that is typically used to test the effectiveness of helmets in protecting against skull fractures and bruises. Those are the types of injuries helmets are designed to protect against, but those injury types are not related to what causes a concussion.
A concussion is caused by a different force altogether that occurs within the skull.
Therefore, the researchers used a crash test dummy head and neck to test ten different football helmets with tiny sensors installed in them.
The researchers conducted their modified "drop test" 330 times.
The helmets tested included the following: Adams a2000, Rawlings Quantum, Riddell 360, Riddell Revolution, Riddell Revolution Speed, Riddell VSR4, Schutt Air Advantage, Schutt DNA Pro+, Xenith X1 and Xenith X2.
As expected, the helmets did reduce the risk of a skull fracture by 60 to 70 percent.
The helmets also reduced the risk of a brain contusion, or bruise, by 70 to 80 percent.
However, the helmets as a whole reduced the risk of traumatic brain injury or concussion by only 20 percent.
Further, the helmets that tend to be most popular among players also tended to provide the least protection against concussions.
"While football helmets provide excellent protection from linear impacts — those leading to bruising and skull fracture — they offer little or no protection against rotational forces, a dangerous source of brain injury and encephalopathy," the researchers wrote.
Encephalopathy refers to any kind of brain disease.
The authors noted that protection against concussion is particularly important for younger football players, from peewee up through college leagues. However, current popular football helmets on the market do not appear to provide much protection against this type of injury.
This study will be presented at the American Academy of Neurology's 66th Annual Meeting in Philadelphia in the spring.
The research was funded by San Antonio-based BRAINS, Inc. No conflicts of interest were noted.
This study has not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal, so its findings should be considered preliminary.