In theory, helmets are the perfect solution to the growing head injury problem in football. After all, they’re perfectly designed to protect your head, allowing you to play better without worrying about the risk of concussions.
Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case—and it’s pretty well-documented. Here’s the truth about wearing helmets in football, and why you should be wary of the false sense of security they give you.
The Science Behind Helmets and Head Injuries
Back in 2014, the American Academy of Neurology presented a study showing that football helmets do little to protect the head from either hits or rotational force, both of which are common causes of traumatic brain injury. Researchers studied a range of popular football helmet designs, finding that they reduced the risk of brain injury by around 20% compared to not wearing a helmet at all.
Even worse, some studies suggest wearing a helmet can actually be damaging—for reasons you might not expect. A 2017 study surveyed football players to determine how they use their helmets. This survey revealed that the majority of players use helmets to block or tackle opposing players. And worse, 46% of them are doing so intentionally. In essence, players wearing helmets may be more likely to use their heads as a weapon—which is a very dangerous prospect.
Technically speaking, your head does have some protection as you play. Wearing a helmet can be better than wearing nothing at all. And don’t forget that the body has its own defenses: your brain is surrounded by fluid designed to cushion it and prevent it from bumps. But unfortunately these protections aren’t enough to stop everything. Concussions happen when your brain comes to a sudden stop too quickly for your cerebrospinal fluid to handle, even with a helmet’s padding as a backup.
The Best Techniques for Preventing Football Injuries
So if helmets don’t protect you, what can?
Well, the root of the problem is this: when we forget that our equipment and biology aren’t enough to prevent serious injury, we put on that helmet and feel invincible. Which is a dangerous mistake.
Let’s compare football to rugby for a second. Rugby is a very similar sport, with the same types of high-speed contact and collisions. But football has the bigger concussion crisis, and that’s for one simple reason: in rugby, there’s no hard helmet. Instead, players are forced to be technically accurate with their tackling technique. In addition, the smaller helmets make it easier for players to lead with their shoulder, instead of using their skull as a battering ram.
Essentially, the best way to prevent head injuries in football is to learn safe tackling techniques. In recent years, both college-level and NFL teams have found success in using rugby-style tackling techniques, including the shoulder-first over head-first tackle. And at the end of the day, these techniques are much safer and more effective than depending solely on a hard plastic case for your head.
Will this reduce the feeling of invincibility and discourage reckless use of the head? In rugby there is no hard helmet so players are forced to be technically accurate with their tackling technique. Common misconception that football helmets prevent concussions which they actually don’t. You don’t need a direct impact to the head to have a concussion, all it is is a shaking of the brain that can be even caused by a body blow or a car crash for example. Smaller helmets could also make it easier for players to lead with their shoulder instead of leading with the head first.