Football season is upon us and many parents of young players may be swayed by helmets claiming to be "concussion-proof." There is no such thing, experts warn.
Some manufacturers are promoting aftermarket add-ons for football helmets – such as liners, bumpers, pads and electronic devices – that promise to reduce the risk of concussion. However, there is little research evaluating the effect of physical impact on young athletes, and risk-reduction claims about helmets designed for adult players may not be relevant to younger players, New York Attorney General Eric Scheiderman warned.
“It’s important to remember that no helmet can fully prevent a concussion,” Schneiderman said, as he cautioned manufacturers against making claims they can't back up. “Ensuring that manufacturers don’t mislead the public and endanger young New Yorkers is a key concern for my office."
Head injuries, including concussions, can happen at any time on the field of play, regardless of the type of helmet being worn. False claims may give players and parents a false sense of security. Instead, parents, coaches and young football players should rely on a number of tips and strategies to help reduce the risk of head injury, including: learning and recognizing symptoms of a concussion; minimizing head-to-head hits on the field, and enforcing stronger and stricter penalties against such behavior.
What to do
Although the age, condition, type and fit of the helmet are important factors, reducing the risk of concussion is not “all about the helmet.” Schneiderman issued these tips to reduce the risk of concussion and head injury in youth football:
- Players, parents and coaches must be trained on the symptoms and risks of concussion.
- Recognizing the signs of concussion and removing a player immediately is extremely important.
- New York State law requires that players be removed from play until they are asymptomatic for a minimum of 24 hours and have written approval from their physician to return to play. Many other states have similar laws.
- The number of concussions can be significantly reduced with modifications to practice format and an emphasis on penalty enforcement.
- Reducing the number of hits is instrumental to reducing the risk of concussion because of the cumulative risk from repeated hits. Limit the amount of contact in practice and forbid drills that involve full-speed, head-on blocking and tackling that begins with players lined up more than three yards apart.
- Players need to be trained to focus on techniques that minimize head-to-head hits. Coaches and referees must strictly enforce penalties against such behavior.