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Type or Age of Helmet Does Not Affect Concussion Risk, Research Paper Finds

Surprise finding: boil-and-bite mouth guards had lower concussion risk than more expensive guards

The risk of sustaining a concussion in high school football is not affected by the brand or age of the helmet or by the type of mouth guard worn, say researchers from the University of Wisconsin in a research paper presented to the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine's 2013 and 2014 Annual Meetings. [1,9]  Scuffed up used football helmet

"According to our research, lower risks of sustaining a sports-related concussion (SRC) and its severity were not improved based on a specific manufacturer. In addition, the SRC rates were similar for players wearing new helmets, as compared to those wearing older ones," said lead author, Timothy McGuine, PhD, ATC of the University of Wisconsin.

"It is also interesting to note, that players who wore a generic mouth guard provided by the school had a lower rate of SRC compared to players with more expensive mouth guards."

Study details

Some football helmet manufacturers suggest that players who wear their helmets - especially new models - may be at lower risk of concussion than those who wear competitors' models or older helmets, basing their claims on how well the new or newer helmets absorb and lessen some of the impact forces that cause concussion in biomechanical studies performed in the controlled environment of the laboratory.  Some manufacturers of specialized mouth guards have likewise claimed their products reduce the risk of concussion.

To determine which type of football helmets and mouth guards are associated with a lower incidence and severity of concussions in high school football players, McGuine and his colleagues worked with certified athletic trainers (ATCs) to collect data on 2,288 players at 36 public and private high schools in Wisconsin during the 2012 and 2013 football seasons,

Because previous research [2] suggested that a poorly-fitted helmet could increase concussion risk, ATCs were encouraged to follow manufacturers' recommendations regarding initial helmet fitting and to check helmet fit weekly over the course of the season to make sure that are properly fitted.

The researchers reported:

  • 251 players (19%) sustained at least one SRC within the last 6 years;
  • 204 (8.9%) experienced SRC within the previous 12 months;
  • no statistically significant difference in the concussion rate by the type of helmet worn or the year the helmet was purchased;
  • no difference in the severity of the concussion sustained as measured by days lost to practice/games;
  • the SRC rate for players who wore a specialized or custom-fitted mouth guard was significantly higher than for players who wore a generic mouth guard provided by their school;
  • no increased risk of concussions associated with age, body mass index (BMI), grade in school, level of competition, or years of football experience.
  • players with a history of SRC were twice as likely to sustain another one compared to players without a history, a finding consistent with numerous earlier studies. [2,3]