Are all football helmets created equal?

It’s almost impossible to read a newspaper or magazine or watch news or sports on TV without seeing a report about contact sports and concussions.

Players in many sports are susceptible to concussions, and doctors who treat concussions say that girls and women may suffer as many, if not more, concussions as males.

But far and away, most stories about sports-related concussions focus on football players and the often terrible head injuries they receive. And many of the concussion-causing incidents involve helmets.

To be sure, all football helmets are not equal. Virginia Tech has published research that rates the quality of different brands and models of helmets. In the study, helmets rated 4 and 5 are singled out as the most effective in offering protection against head injuries; helmets rated 1 and 2 are the worst.

Tad Seifert, M.D., director of Norton Healthcare’s Sports Concussion Program and head of the NCAA Headache Task Force, said it is important for parents of high school and youth football players to be knowledgeable about the helmets their sons wear. And while the Virginia Tech study is a good resource, Dr. Seifert said there are other important things to remember, including “helmet age, helmet fit, helmet reconditioning at the end of each season and appropriate game-play fundamentals.” One of those fundamentals, he said, is making sure that players tackle with the head held up and do not lead with their heads.

If he had a son playing football, what kind of helmet would Dr. Seifert have him wear? Even though the available data has limitations, Dr. Seifert would still choose a helmet with a rating of 4 or 5.

–Brian Rublein

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