Can Helmets Prevent Concussions?

While the NFL enjoys the most notoriety when it comes to concussions, football isn’t the only contact sport. In fact, the NFL is not the only sport or activity where concussions are a concern.

You can sustain a concussion in a car accident, other (insert your sport of choice here) athletic venues, and recreational activities.

Many people don a helmet in the belief that they will then be protected against a concussion, but, can helmets prevent concussions?

First, we need to understand exactly what a concussion is and what causes it. By understanding these things, we can start to take the necessary steps to prevent concussions.

injured soccer player on the ground being attended to by the team doctor

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Can You Get a Concussion with a Helmet On?

You certainly can get a concussion with a helmet on. A helmet does many things right, including protecting your head from cuts, abrasions, or cracks in your skull. However, it’s not the be all and end all of head protection.

For the most part, you can’t expect a helmet to prevent a concussion. While there may be some degree of physics (occurring inside of the helmet, most notably in the padding) that may prevent one, the science just isn’t there yet and it’s because of what a concussion is that makes it difficult to prevent.

What is a Concussion?

This is the part that still confounds scientists and doctors all across the fruited plains and beyond. The goal is to prevent concussions, but a concussion is the result of physics that a helmet cannot minimize and if it does, only incrementally so.

Two doctors looking at xray of skull

When your head travels forward at speed and is suddenly stopped or, worse yet, viciously reverses course, your brain doesn’t stop moving forward until it impacts the interior of your skull. Since the brain is essentially free floating inside of your skull, it has to obey the laws of physics.

This impact causes bruising to the brain or potentially much worse, such as a large amount of internal bleeding.

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How Do Helmets Work?

Helmets work as a protective shell around your head. They prevent outside impacts from damaging your skull, face, or the back of your neck. They primarily save you from nasty injury if your head impacts something hard, like falling off of a motorcycle and striking the asphalt.

With cushioned padding on the interior, the helmet can work to slow how hard your head stops when it is impacted and it was moving in a forward direction. However, the padding is not quite enough to stop your free floating brain from slamming into your skull.

the words head injuries written on a chalk board in white chalk with a umpires whistle hanging on the right side and a red football on the left foreground

How Do Helmets Protect Your Head

Helmets are like sacrificial paint. Oftentimes, in industrial painting, zinc paint is used as a primer to paint over steel. The steel can’t rust because the zinc code sacrifices itself to the chemical reaction of corrosion. The helmet is much the same, designed to crack and break under a massive impact, rather than allowing your head to do the same.

How to Prevent Concussions in Sports

The only way to truly prevent concussions in sports is to minimize how often the head goes from speed to stop. The NFL has addressed this by changing the way players tackle each other, by no longer leading with the crown of their heads and no longer tackling through head-to-head contact.

The NHL is talking about reducing head injuries by increasing penalties for direct head contact but there is nothing set in stone as of yet. Other sports encourage players to keep their heads up and that’s important in recreational activities as well. Keep your head up and pay attention to your surroundings. 

Video: Get a Heads Up: Keeping Safe from Brain Injury

Courtesy CDCFoundationTBI on Youtube.

Concussions in Sports Statistics

Once again, the NFL leads the way here, perhaps because it’s the most popular full contact sport in this hemisphere and on this side of the planet. While the number of concussions has doubled in recent years (although that is a statistic that covers all sports), they are at a 5-year low in the NFL.

But that’s hardly surprising since the NFL has been the predominant athletic organization coming to grasp concussions. Other sports are looking to do the same, however, with sports like boxing and the UFC, it’s either stop altogether or ignore it since the entire objective has always been the knockout.

Can Helmets Prevent Concussions?

Saying ‘no’ is the easy answer. The science is still out and we have a long way to go in determining an exact percentage of prevention when it comes to helmets.

Do helmets protect your head? Absolutely. For right now, the technique is the answer to concussions in sports and constant awareness for everyone else. 

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