Are football helmets effective against concussions?

Washington (WUSA9)---Brace yourself, because your football helmet may not be as safe as you thought.

A new study released Monday by The American Academy of Neurology said football helmets have limited protection against concussions. Although football helmets reduce the severity of concussions they don't actually prevent them from happening. Dr. Zachary Litvack, of the George Washington Medical Faculty Associates says helmets have reduced external trauma and skull fractures, but have not decreased concussions. On average, football helmets only reduced traumatic brain injury risks by 20 percent.

"The best way to think about it is your brain is a passenger in the skull, just like you could be a passenger in a car" Dr. Litvack said.

Dr. Litvack explains that advancements like seat belts and airbags have improved car safety. Similarly, helmets are supposed to improve safety on the football field. In a football collision, the problem does not occur in the initial impact. "It is that jostling around of the brain in the skull," says Dr. Litvack.

The same would occur if you weren't wearing your seat belt during a car accident. You would be jostling around in the car.

To test impact and helmet safety, researchers modified the standard drop test system, which is approved by the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment. When examining the various brands of helmets, the study found that the most popular brands reduced the risk of skull fracture by 60 to 70 percent. However, these same leading brands provided the least protection against rotational forces, which is responsible for concussions.

With limited protection against concussions, football players, especially young players, would be at higher risks of brain injury.

"Still developing brains are more susceptible to the lasting effects of trauma," Frank Conidi, MD, co-author of the study.

The problem progresses because the popularity of the brand increases when a helmet is lighter and comfier, in other words less protective. Safer helmets are bulkier and uncomfortable. Can we have both protection and comfort? Dr. Litvack says no.

"There is no helmet that could ever be physically developed that would do that" Dr. Litvack said.

The study will be presented at the American Academy of Neurology's 66th Annual Meeting in Philadelphia from April 26 to May 3, 2014.

Written by:
Brittany Linton, WUSA9


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