A new study presented at the AAP National Conference in October strikes another blow to youth football:

Approximately 40,000 Sport Related Concussions (SRC)/year occur in US high school football. Football helmet and mouth guard manufacturers cite laboratory research that their brand/models will lessen impact forces associated with SRC greater than their competitors’ models, and further claim players who utilize their equipment may reduce their risk of SRC.


Just think about that number for just a second:  In the United States, 40,000 high school students suffer a concussion while playing football each year.  That is just astounding!  Everyone — parents, doctors, coaches, players — is worried about concussions in football.  PBS’s Frontline keeps a running tally (updated weekly) of concussions in the NFL, where the milestone of 100 concussions in a season is about be be surpassed (there were 88 through week 12).

How do we reconcile our love for the sport of football with the vast number of serious brain injuries? (And yes, a concussion is a serious brain injury at any age.)  In youth football, coaches have been teaching young players to tackle differently, and not to lead with the head.  It’s harder to teach more experienced players (like in high school, college, or the pros) new techniques in how to play the game, even as the rules have changed to prevent head trauma. It’s not even certain that changes in tackling methods or changes in the rules of the game will reduce head injuries.

Maybe better equipment can save the game.  This study looked to see if three different brands of commonly used helmets were more protective than the others.  Chris Weller draws the bottom line:

According to researchers, there was no difference between concussion rates and severity among Riddell users, Schutt users, or Xenith users.


How about the use of mouth guards?  Surely parents might pay more for a custom-fitted mouth guard if it afforded their child protection from getting concussed.  Alexandra Sifferlin says not so fast:

Surprisingly, players who used custom-fitted mouth guards had a higher risk of concussions than those who used standard varieties, leading the researchers to conclude that a hefty price tag doesn’t lead to more protection.


Weller spoke to the study’s author, who explained why football helmets and mouth guards may not be so protective against concussions:

More important is the way children are being taught how to tackle, she added. The brain isn’t connected to the skull; it bathes in cerebrospinal fluid and floats, detached, within the person’s head. When someone delivers a crushing hit, normally the hit itself isn’t what causes the concussion. Helmets do succeed at preventing skull fractures. The real damage comes from the movement inside the skull, as the loose brain keeps getting jostled around even after the play has stopped.

“You can dissipate the force of something striking the skull,” Brooks said, “but you can’t reduce the forces that make the brain bounce back and forth inside the skull following impact.”


And that leads to the study’s conclusion:

Caution is advised when recommending specific preventive equipment based on manufacturer claims of reduced concussion risk.


Previous PediaBlog posts on concussions here.