Two studies this year highlight the tough choices and conflicting information that parents and coaches face when trying to protect football players from head trauma.
In May, Virginia Tech tested all helmets worn at the high school level. Four of them — Riddell 360, Rawlings Quantum Plus, Xenith X2 and Riddell Revolution Speed — earned five—star ratings, the highest possible.
But another study two months later revealed that helmet types — even the five—star helmets examined by Virginia Tech — are irrelevant in lowering the risk of concussions.
“According to our research, lower risks of sustaining a sports—related concussion (SRC) and its severity were not improved based on a specific manufacturer. In addition, the SRC rates were similar for players wearing new helmets, as compared to those wearing older ones,” wrote Timothy McGuine, research coordinator of the University of Wisconsin’s Sports Medicine Center.
The conflict between the two reports can be traced back to how the studies were conducted. The Virginia Tech study focused on straight—line forces, while the Wisconsin study included both straight—line and rotational forces.
“Most concussion experts are confident that the majority of the damage is done when the head gets spun or tilted,” said John Doherty, Munster Community Hospital concussion clinic director and Munster High School athletic trainer. “Most people who get concussions are blindsided by a hit that spins or snaps their head back.”
Doherty says that helmet selection is only a small part of concussion prevention.
“National researchers have found the same thing year after year. It doesn’t matter what brand of helmet you’re wearing, the concussion rate remains unchanged,” he said.
More than 7,400 high schools use a cognitive testing service marketed by ImPACT Applications, Inc. of Pittsburgh.
The Immediate Post—Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing (ImPACT) is a computerized exam that tests athletes on their attention span, working memory, response variability, non-verbal problem solving and reaction time.
Athletes are required to take the test before the season starts to provide a baseline test result. Once the athlete suffers a concussion, he or she must take the test afterward and get a score equal to or greater than the baseline result to return to competition.
D’Ambra, Henson and Mikesell are members of the Ball State Student Media.