Preventing football concussions starts with helmet design

Among the injuries of greatest concern for coaches, players, and parents are those involving the brain.

Football season is now underway and many young athletes will be participating at all levels from Peewee to the NFL. Interest in these injuries has heightened to the point where many collegiate and high school football programs have followed the lead of the NFL by including neurologists as part of the medical staff.

While much has been written about the diagnosis and treatment of concussions, little has been publicized about the prevention of concussion.

Any discussion of preventing concussion centers on improved football helmet design.

Until recently, football helmets have undergone few design changes since the conversion from leather to plastic and the addition of the facemask in the 1950s. Current research and development of safer helmets focuses on better fit and a shock-absorbing liner. Various combinations of air, water, and foam have resulted in more effective and comfortable helmets.

In 2002, the Revolution helmet was introduced. The Revolution as well as the ION 4D now dominate the market. Both emphasize improved cushioning, especially in regard to side impact. The Revolution uses an air suspension plus dual-density foam.

“Seventy-five percent of our helmet inventory consists of the Revolution, with the remainder being ION-4Ds,” said Bob Howard, head athletic trainer for the University of Connecticut football program.

This year UConn will also be using a specialized facemask designed for rapid safe release that allows easy removal of the helmet in case of neck injury.

New studies are being performed that involve the insertion of accelerometers in helmets to record the force and direction of impact during a football collision. This information can be immediately downloaded to a computer and analyzed.

Despite difficult economic times, the benefit of new technology in football helmets far outweighs the complications of a traumatic brain injury.

Anthony G. Alessi, MD, is Chief of Neurology at The William W. Backus Hospital and in private practice at NeuroDiagnostics, LLC, in Norwich. E-mail him at If you wish to learn more about sports health topics, listen to the podcast or go to the Healthy Sports blog at

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