These days, parents, student athletes and coaches are much more aware of the long-term medical problems that concussions can cause. Fortunately, many efforts are being made to protect kids from head injuries.
Sports equipment companies have jumped on the bandwagon and have improved the protection their helmets and pads offer. However, some of these newer products, like football helmets, are quite expensive. Parents want to know if these more expensive football helmets actually offer more protection. According to a new study, just because a helmet may be heavier and more expensive, it will not lower a player's risk of concussion.
Why is that? It could be because a helmet doesn't keep the brain from moving around in the skull. It may offer better protection against a skull fracture, but that doesn't necessarily correlate with concussion.
A study of more than 1,300 players on football teams at 36 Wisconsin high schools found that players wearing older helmets received just as much protection from concussion as players with flashy new models, said study author Timothy McGuine, senior scientist and research coordinator for the University of Wisconsin Health Sports Medicine Center in Madison.
"The helmet technology is advanced as it can be. They've done a wonderful job. We don't have skull fractures in football," he said. "But I don't know how much padding can be put in to prevent the brain from sloshing around inside the cranium."
This research, to be presented Saturday at the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine's annual meeting in Chicago, comes at a time when some sports equipment manufacturers are marketing expensive football helmets amid claims that they offer better protection against concussion than earlier models, McGuine said.
"They're all being touted as the next best thing to prevent sports injuries, and it really puts the squeeze on athletic directors and coaches," he said. "Some companies are going right to the parents and saying, 'We know it's too expensive for the school to pay for it, so you should pay for this helmet to protect your child.'"
Here's how the study worked. Licensed athletic trainers at each of the high schools taking part in the study, kept thorough records during the 2012 football season. All safety equipment used by the athletes was noted. Data was also recorded on the numbers of games and practices each player participated in and the number of sports-related concussions.
The players wore helmets manufactured by Riddell, Schutt and Xenith.
Out of 1,332 players tracked, 115 sustained a concussion during the season, McGuine reported.
Researchers found no difference in the rate of concussion by either the type of helmet worn or the helmet's age.
"We found the actual incidence of concussion was not more for players wearing the newest helmets versus wearing helmets 3, 4 or 5 years old," McGuine said. "We also looked at [concussion] severity by helmet model. No difference there, either."
Another interesting fact also popped up during the study. Players who wore a specialized or custom-fitted mouth guard actually had a higher risk of suffering a concussion than players who wore the generic mouth-guard provided by the school.
The American Medical Society of Sports Medicine released a position statement in January that said hard sports helmets can prevent impact injuries such as lacerations or fractures but have not been shown to reduce the incidence or severity of concussions, said Dr. Anne-Felicia Ambrose, medical director of the traumatic brain injury unit in the department of rehabilitation medicine at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City.
"In terms of equipment, there really isn't that much more we can do," Ambrose said. "Where we have a lot of potential for reducing concussion is the way the game is played."
Some experts believe that changing how games are played is more likely to prevent concussions than equipment.
For example, limiting contact between players outside of competition is one means of reducing concussions, she said. "A lot more concussions occur during practice, when coaches cannot have their eyes on everyone on the field," Ambrose said. "The chance of impact is increased."
McGuine agreed. "I don't see any reason for kids to have full tackle on practice days," he said.
Since football players are going to be wearing helmets for other safety reasons, McGuine suggests that coaches and trainers make sure that each player's helmet is properly fitted and checked weekly.
How many high school football players receive a concussion every year during play or practice? McGuine says about 40,000. That's a lot of concussions.
Parents want to make sure that their child is as safe as can reasonably be expected, so they are more vulnerable to high-pressure sales pitches that tout the safety of certain products. According to this study, more expensive doesn't necessarily mean safer, especially where concussions are concerned.
The research presented at the meetings mentioned above, are typically considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed medical journal.
Source: Dennis Thompson, http://consumer.healthday.com
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