With more than 40,000 concussions occurring each year among U.S. high school students, researchers decided to test how well the different helmet brands protected against head injuries.
Presenting their data at the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) National Conference and Exhibition in Orlando, the scientists reported no significant differences in concussion risk among the most popular brands.
The study involved 1,332 football players from 36 U.S. high schools during the 2012 football season. Before the season, the players answered questions about their behaviors and their history of injuries. During the season, athletic trainers at the high schools tracked the number and severity of sports-related concussions, recording which brands of helmet and mouth guard the players used.
The majority of students — 52% — wore Riddell helmets, 35% wore Schutt and 13% used Xenith. Sixty one percent of the players wore generic mouth guards provided by their schools, and 39% wore mouth guards that were custom-made by their dentist, or specially branded to reduce concussion risk.
By the end of the season, 115 players had sustained 116 sports related concussions, and there were no notable differences in the likelihood of getting concussions between the different brands. Surprisingly, players who used custom-fitted mouth guards had a higher risk of concussions than those who used standard varieties, leading the researchers to conclude that a hefty price tag doesn’t lead to more protection.
Using a properly fitted helmet is critical to preventing skull fractures, but the scientists say that the nature of concussions may make it impossible to develop a helmet that completely protects against internal injuries to the brain. Since the brain floats freely in the skull, a helmet that sits on the outside of the skull does little to cushion the violent movement that delicate brain tissue and nerve networks feel during a tackle. So any helmet, regardless of how it’s made, say the researchers, can only go so far in preventing the side effects of concussions.