Helmets Not Doing Enough To Protect The Brain In Contact Sports
March 12, 2013

Helmets Not Doing Enough To Protect The Brain

Peter Suciu for redOrbit.com — Your Universe Online

While there was a time when athletes in so-called “contact” sports such as football took to the field sans helmet, today many sports — everything from baseball to cycling to hockey — now require competitors to wear the ubiquitous “brain bucket.” Even non-competitive athletes such as recreational skiers and snowboarders are told that wearing a helmet is a good idea.

Helmet designs have of course also evolved over the years, but even the makers know more can be done and that a helmet alone can´t prevent all injuries. Riddell, maker of helmets for the NFL, went so far as to call for an in-season timeout in recent years so that players, coaches and even parents of youth athletes could inspect the helmets during football games.

All these efforts come as concussions remain a major concern for all athletes. But according to the latest studies, helmets could be causing as many problems as they prevent. Helmets may not prevent concussions and could actually give a false sense of security.

Researchers at the University of Calgary Brain Injury Initiative with the Hotchkiss Brain Institute (HBI), Alberta Children's Hospital Research Institute (ACHRI) and the Faculties of Kinesiology and Medicine, have provided new guidelines on evaluating and treating concussions during sporting events and in clinical settings.

Dr. Willem Meeuwisse, a physician with a clinical practice specializing in sports medicine, and leader of the study, co-authored the document entitled “The Consensus Statement on Concussion in Sport; the 4th International Conference on Concussion in Sport held in Zurich, November 2012.”

The paper has been co-published in the April 2013 issue of the British Journal of Sports Medicine, the Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine and it will appear in a number of other leading biomedical journals.

The Consensus Statement found that mouth guards and even helmets can help protect the wearer from serious head and facial injuries, but there is little evidence that the helmets can help prevent concussions. More worrisome is the fact that, paradoxically, a helmet may encourage players to take greater risks. The University of Michigan Risk Science Center noted last year that head injuries had increased even though the use of helmets increased — with risk-taking behavior cited as a possible cause.

“An important consideration in the use of protective equipment is the concept of risk compensation“¦where the use of [this] equipment results in behavioral change, such as the adoption of more dangerous playing techniques, which can result in a paradoxical increase in injury rates,” the study cautioned.

Researchers presented the latest findings on common types of brain injury, that which has the potential to cause long term neurological damage if not dealt with accordingly. A variety of sport activities, where the risk of concussion might be high, were reviewed including football, rugby, ice hockey, horse riding, skiing, and boxing.

“Concussion is one of the most complex injuries to diagnose and treat, and our understanding of concussion is constantly evolving,” explains Meeuwisse. “This document attempts to give health care professionals a roadmap to what we believe will provide the best patient outcomes.”

The authors of the report suggest that instead of looking to create improved helmets, rule changes aimed at preventing concussion in sports would be a better strategy.

The latest version of the Consensus Statement has the backing of the International Olympic Committee, FIFA, the International Equestrian Federation, and the International Rugby Board.