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Concussion Study Reveals No Such Thing As a Safer Helmet

Update Date: Oct 28, 2013 03:33 PM EDT

There is no perfect helmet for preventing concussions.

Researchers found no differences in concussion risk among high school football players using different brands and ages of helmets. Researchers also found that custom mouth guards do not reduce the risk of concussions.

While many football helmet and mouth guard manufacturers claim that their gear will reduce impact forces and reduce concussion risk, the latest study revealed that neither a specific brand nor a higher cost were linked with fewer concussions in adolescent athletes.

"Our preliminary findings suggest that neither any specific brand of football helmet nor custom mouth guards result in fewer concussions in kids who use them," lead co-investigator Margaret Alison Brooks, MD, MPH, FAAP, said in a news release. "Despite what manufacturers might claim, newer and more expensive equipment may not reduce concussion risk. So is it worth the significant extra cost to families and schools?"

Around 40,000 sport related concussions occur in U.S. high schools each year. The latest study involved 1,332 football players at 36 high schools during the 2012 football season. The football players had completed a pre-season demographic and injury survey. Athletic trainers were also asked to record incidence and severity of sport related concussions throughout the year.

Study data revealed that 52 percent of the helmets worn by players were Riddell, 35 percent were by Schutt, and 13 percent were by Xenith. Researchers said that 39 percent of the helmets were bought in 2011-2013, 33 percent were bought in 2009-2010 and 28 percent were bought in 2002- 2008. Researchers said 61 percent of players wore generic mouth guards and 39 percent wore custom fitted mouth guards fitted by dental professionals or specifically marketed to reduce sports related concussions.

Researchers said that 115 players of 8.5 percent of players suffered a sports related injury in 2012. The findings revealed no difference in SRC rate based on the type of helmet worn, or the year the helmet was purchased. Concussion severity was no different for players wearing Riddell, Schutt or Xenith helmets.

Surprisingly, players who wore custom-fitted mouth guards suffered higher sports related concussion rates than those who wore generic mouth guards.

While helmets are important for preventing skull fractures and scalp lacerations in football players, Brooks said "because the brain is floating freely inside the skull, I think most experts doubt whether it is possible to ever develop a helmet design that can prevent concussion."

The findings are presented Oct. 28 at the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) National Conference and Exhibition in Orlando.

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