Use of Helmet Accessories to Decrease Concussions is Risky

King 5 recently published a report on a Washington State high school that is using Guardian Caps to "hopefully reduce the risk of concussions." The article suggests that Guardian Caps, a padded shell that fits over the top of the helmet, reduces the risk of a concussion injury. This is not supported by medical literature. In fact, it can be dangerous to use these. The company itself has the disclaimer (that you have to acknowledge before entering the site):

*No helmet, practice apparatus, or helmet pad can prevent or eliminate the risk of concussions or other serious head injuries while playing sports. Researchers have not reached an agreement on how the results of impact absorption tests relate to concussions. No conclusions about a reduction of risk or severity of concussive injury should be drawn from impact absorption tests.*

Using guardian caps and other similar products voids the helmet warranty. The use of accessories on a helmet may change the impact forces in such a way that the helmet does not work as designed. Current helmets are rigorously tested and their design follows the current understanding of traumatic head injury mechanism. NFL studies suggest that newer helmets may reduce the absolute and relative risk of concussions by 10%-20%. However, helmets are designed to prevent severe and fatal head injuries (CDC), not concussions. Studies in skiing and biking find no reduction in concussion risk with helmet use, but a significant decrease in fatal injuries, skull fractures and other severe injuries. This is because concussions often develop from the brain bouncing within the skull. Extra padding does not change this mechanism of injury. There is no substitute for concussion prevention. The CDC lists the following recommendations to decrease concussion risk:

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  • Follow the rules and safety of the sport
  • Encourage good sportsmanship
  • Wear a helmet to reduce the risk of death and severe head injury

In addition:

  • Never lead with your head
  • Use proper technique with tackling and blocking
  • Ensure proper helmet fit

You can read the article of concern here. One quote that is very concerning to me is "The hits feel softer and it's giving other kids, that wouldn't have considered coming out to play, the opportunity to play without the fear of getting hurt," Marsh said. This suggests a false sense of security for these kids. I cannot stress enough that the goal is to avoid head impact through proper coaching and technique. Since we know that guardian caps and likely helmets do not decrease the risk of a simple concussion, a false sense of security with a "softer feel" of hits while using these caps may actually increase the risk of a concussion.

I appreciate the parents' and coaches' desire to increase the safety of the sport for their kids. That should be done through education on the mechanism of a concussion to encourage prevention. In addition, all athletes, parents and coaches need to understand the signs, symptoms, treatment and prevention of concussion injuries.

High school football season is here! Our ASEM team is providing coverage for multiple schools across the state of Washington. Stay safe!!

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Posted in News_and_Media Post Date 11/07/2018


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