In a great article published last month in Forbes, Chris Smith took an in-depth look at the concussion helmet backstory. Specifically, Smith posed a question about whether better head protection could help solve the NFL’s concussion problem.

As all football fans are aware, head injuries in the NFL have prompted concern and criticism; also a law suit that ended up in a $765 million settlement on behalf of thousands of NFL players. The concussion crisis, as it’s now being called, has prompted a great deal of interest in the development, testing and manufacturing of football helmets designed to provide better protection for players.

Xenith is one of the companies at the forefront of the helmet business. According to Smith, more than 100 NFL players will be wearing Xenith helmets this season. It appears the company, despite some controversy, will work to get the helmets to college and high school players, as well as players in other sports teams.

As a physician, what interests me most about this story is the effort to address head injuries by developing equipment that can make its way from the lab to the heads of players. To be honest, I tried to get a Xenith helmet for my son, but they were sold out. So for parents and coaches out there who are wondering about their effectiveness, here are my thoughts:

Better helmet design is a great thing. The Xenith helmet has some novel design innovations that should make it a better helmet. In my view, the latest and greatest helmets coming from the primary manufacturers do make up a collective big step foreword from previous models. However, we have to look at the big picture.

The rates of all sports related injuries – from short-term to long-term, catastrophic injuries – can reasonably be expected to decline – if we broaden our focus. That means better helmets, yes. But it also means better gear and equipment in general, better training techniques such as neck strengthening, better blocking and tackling techniques like “heads up” and better education and awareness, such as including baseline testing for all youth involved in sports.

Car racing is a dangerous sport. But as protective gear got better, the injury rate declined.
Walking and running are not dangerous sports. Even so, as walking and running shoe design improved, people have experienced fewer negative effects, such as shin splints and Achilles tendonitis.

Football is no different. When we put our focus on the whole player – from head to toe – we provide that player with resources for better protection and prevention.

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