By now, most sports-minded Americans know a lot more about concussions than they did even five years ago. This awareness has led to policy and protocol changes throughout athletic organizations, from youth to professional sports. Concussion awareness has also made its way to the sports-retail market, where new football helmet add-ons claim to reduce head injuries. But do they work?

That question was recently posed in a presentation to the American Academy of Neurology. A study conducted by BRAINS, Inc., looked at four specific football helmet technologies currently on the market to learn more about their effectiveness. The brands included Guardian Cap, Shockstrips, Helmet Glide and UnEqual Technologies’ Concussion Reduction Technology.

Using a crash test dummy, researchers simulated head impact, modifying a standard system approved by the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment. Sensors in the dummy’s head measured linear and angular rotational responses to helmet impacts at varying speeds of 10, 12 and 14 miles per hour. So here’s the outcome: Helmet add-ons reduced linear acceleration impact by about 11 percent. But they only reduced angular acceleration impact by two percent. Understanding what this means requires understanding just a little more about the nature of concussions.

Right now, helmet add-ons are designed to reduce linear acceleration – the kind of impact that can cause injuries like skull fractures and bruising on the head. But angular accelerations are the forces associated with concussions. And unfortunately, injury prevention-based equipment manufacturers are not currently testing for angular metrics.

A concussion is a type of traumatic brain injury that can occur when the head and brain move rapidly back and forth. The sudden movement can cause the brain to bounce or twist in the skull, damaging brain cells and causing changes in the brain. While a hit to the head might have enough force to fracture the skull, it won’t necessarily cause a concussion.

The bottom line: Helmet add-ons don’t yet adequately protect a player from a concussion. The market is likely moving in that direction. But it may still take some time to develop add-ons that are more sophisticated and offer better protection. In the meantime, players need much more than a device. They need training in tackling techniques. They need training that strengthens cervical muscles. Most of all, they need parents, coaches and athletic directors who are educated in the signs and symptoms of concussion – who are committed to baseline testing, concussion education, concussion recognition, and who get that player to a medical professional for evaluation after an injury.

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