March is National Brain Injury Awareness Month. Concussion prevention has been a hot topic, and for good reason–studies have shown that multiple concussions can cause long-term damage. Helmets cannot completely prevent concussions, but the right helmets can reduce the risk of more serious injuries.
Helmets have come a long way since the early days of football. Let’s break down how helmets can help and how to get the right fit.
How Football Helmets Help
Concussions can occur from a direct blow to the head or a blow to the body that makes the head move back and forth rapidly. The force from a blow can cause linear, rotational, or angular movement of the brain inside the skull, causing injury to the brain.
Helmets cannot completely prevent this from happening, but helmets can help to absorb some of the force from impact. However, because the brain floats freely inside the head, there may never be a helmet that can completely prevent concussions; a helmet will not be able to prevent the brain from moving. Still, studies have shown that a properly-fitted helmet could potentially reduce the risk of a concussion by about 20%.
Football helmet manufacturers have been working on new helmets to reduce the risk of concussions, and updated testing standards may help to push for new innovations. Currently, football helmets provide the most protection against linear impact, but do little to protect against rotational force.
Guidelines for Properly Fitting Helmets
Football helmets will be the most effective if they are fitted properly. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has comprehensive guidelines on proper helmet fitting, but here are some things to keep in mind when fitting a helmet.
- Know the basics about proper helmet fit. The helmet should fit snugly, and there should be no space between the helmet’s pads and the wearer’s head. The chin strap should also fit snugly and be centered under the chin. Once the chin strap is in place, the helmet should not move or slide in any way. The ear holes should line up with the ears, and the helmet should not sit too high or too low on the head.
- Know your measurements. Helmets come in different sizes for the best fit. Measure the head with a soft tape measure, positioning the tape measure just above the eyebrows and ears. Make sure the tape measure is level all the way around the head. Alternatively, you can measure with a piece of string, then measure the string against a standard ruler.
- Sizing varies by brand. As is often the case with clothing, helmet brands can vary in size and fit. Helmet manufacturers will generally have fitting instructions on their websites, so it might be helpful to review those first.
- Try on before you buy. Even if you have the right measurements and understand the manufacturer’s fit instructions, you ultimately need to try it on to find the best fit.
- Helmet fit can change. As young football players grow, they will need to get larger helmets. Hairstyles can also affect the fit of a helmet. For example, if the wearer had long hair when he was fitted for a helmet, he may need to get a tighter-fitting helmet if he shaves his hair or cuts it very short.
Although helmets cannot completely prevent concussions in football, they can reduce your risk. Always play with a properly-fitted helmet, no matter what.