Helmets: do they work to prevent concussions?

Posted by Vanessa Fabrizio, MSIV Drexel University College of Medicine

FOOTBALL: the most popular sport in America. Little boys dream of growing up and playing in high school, then college, then hopefully the NFL. Even little girls dream of dating football players in school or marrying a NFL superstar.

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Those who have never played football can pour money into the sport by simply watching it on TV or more drastically via sports betting. With advancements in the sport and the increasing athelticism of the players, the injury risk has drastically increased while the lifetime of a player in the NFL has decreased. More attention is being brought to the media about concussion and their long term sequelae in professional athletes, yet not enough people question how well the helmets are actually working.

What is a concussion?

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Concussion: a mild traumatic brain injury that leads to a temporary loss of brain function.  Symptoms of a concussion are commonly headaches, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, difficultly on ones feet and balancing, and loss of fine motor coordination. Other symptoms can include light sensitivity, blurry vision, tinnitus, and can even produce seizures. Most individuals who experience a concussion will also experience post-traumatic amnesia and experience difficulty paying attention and disorientation. Post concussive syndrome exists and these symptoms can linger for months affecting lifestyle in many ways.

Treatment for concussion is typically and simply rest. Avoiding head trauma is key to recovery.

Football is not the only sport where its players experience concussions. Boxing is an extremely dangerous sport and many of its victims experience neurological deficits due to their involvement. Soccer, basketball, volleyball, softball, and baseball to name a few all have increased risks of concussions greater than the general public.


This video demonstrates that not only professional players are at risk as it shows a 12yr old on the wrong end of a “hard hit”.

What do the studies say about helmet protection?

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Recently an article in the LA times was published that talked about how the American Academy of Neurology is currently studying the effectiveness of different football helmets on the market today and how well they decrease concussion rates. The research that will be presented is showing that no helmet on the market today is actual effective in preventing concussions. However, it appears that the helmet this study rated as number 1, was rated last in a study at Virginia-Tech Wake Forest University School of Biomedical Engineering and Sciences. Obviously this shows that our testing of how effective helmets work isn’t standardized yet or up to par. As mentioned above, the sport of football itself has advanced so now helmets need to advance and the testing of the efficacy of these new helmets need to advance as well.

Should we encourage children to stop playing football to prevent them harm? As an avid football lover myself, I think that this is not the solution. We need to continue to raise media attention in order to expedite the process of creating these newer, safer helmets. Education about concussions need to be taught to young athletes as well as appropriate tackling measures to ensure safety. The NFL association has been good about updating the rules and regulations of the game to ensure player safety with fines and penalties for unnecessary roughness and hits. Lets hope they continue this way and it continues to trickle down all the way to the peewee leagues.

CLick here to link to the LA times article.

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Cardiac and Concussion Screening at Monmouth March 15, 2014

MJM Flyer Spring Screening

Click here to find out more about concussion.

Click here to find out more about concussion screening.

Click here to find out more about the Matthew J Morahan Program at Barnabas Health.

Neurology and Skiing

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We’re mostly talking about orthopedic, spinal cord and head injuries.

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Spinal Cord Injuries:

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The incidence of spinal cord injury (SCI) is around 1 per 100,000 visits (mostly thoracolumbar spine), usually caused  caused by a simple fall, followed by hitting a tree.

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The incidence of SCI for snow boarders is higher, around 4 per 100,000 visits (mostly cervical), and usually caused by a backward fall during a jump (>75%) or other tick.

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Most SCIs in skiers and snow boarders occur in 15-25 years olds.

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Head trauma:

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The incidence of head trauma is 3.8 per 100,000 ski visits, usually from direct collision with trees.  The incidence of head trauma is higher for snow boarding, around 6.5 per 100,000 visits, more often caused by falling backwards.  Most head traumas result in concussions, but 14% are severe head trauma, and 4% are fatal.

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Others

I came across this case report of another unusual neurologic skiing complication: 
A 45-year old woman first developed distorted vision in the left eye, like looking through a kaleidoscope while skiing.  Soon afterwards, her right leg started jerking, causing her to fall. 
It turned out that she had sustained a left carotid artery dissection causing high grade stenosis during skiing.
There are a few other reports of cervical artery dissection from skiing.

A Simple Device to Detect Concussions

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Preventing, evaluating and managing sports related concussions is a hot topic right now.

For example, Monmouth Neuroscience Institute, in association with the  Matthew J. Morahan III Health Assessment Program, offers baseline cognitive screening events and concussion evaluations for local school and college athletes.

Like most programs around the country, we use the ImPACT computerized testing to measure reaction times and assess concussions.  However, this type of computer testing requires specialized equipment and staff training.

Investigators are still looking for a more simple and cost effective assessment tool that can be used to asses athletes’ reaction times right on the side lines, to allow immediate return to play decisions during the actual game.

Sports medicine physicians from the University of Michigan have developed a homemade device that could be used in this way.

They stuck a hockey puck to then end of a long wooden dowel marked with centimeter spaced lines along its length.

The evaluator holds it in front of the athlete who is seated with one arm resting on a table. The evaluator lines up the puck with the bottom of the athlete’s hand and lets go.  Once the athlete has caught the falling stick, the evaluator marks where his hand lands, which gives a quantitative measure of reaction time.

A concussed athlete will have a slower reaction time and take longer to catch the stick (catching it further down) than a healthy athlete.

In a study published last year these investigators first used their homemade device to measure pre-season reaction times of football, soccer and hockey players.  Then they waited for these same athletes to get injured with concussions, and had them to re-take the test within at least 48 hours of the head injury.  They found that the concussed athletes took significantly longer (sometimes as much as a full second) to catch the rod than before the head trauma.

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The catch?  You still need a baseline measure for each athlete – but it might be easier to get high school and college kids to do this simple 5min test before the first game of the season than have them go to specialized testing center for a computer based test.  Then, with those baseline test results recorded, any coach can repeat the test on the side-lines after an injury and decide if they should be worried.

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I am sure the use of a hockey puck was no accident!

Read more about the study here.

Read more about concussion and concussion screening.

Find out more about the Matthew J. Morahan III Health Assessment Program at Barnabas Health.

Concussion Assessments at Monmouth

The Matthew J. Morahan, III Memorial Health Assessment Center for Athletes is now available at Monmouth Medical Center.

Concussion

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What does this mean?

1. Monmouth will be offering baseline IMPACT screening and cardiac screening to high school and college athletes, either at a free screening event or by appointment.

2. Athletes who sustain a sports related concussion and require immediate medical attention will be evaluated in the Monmouth Medical Center Emergency Room.  If they are felt to be suffering from ongoing symptoms of concussion, they can be referred to the Monmouth Concussion Center for same or next day evaluation by a neurologist and return to play determination.

3. Evaluation in the Monmouth Concussion Center will typically include a physician assessment, simple balance testing and IMPACT (R) cognitive testing.

4. The results of these evaluations with be forwarded to the athlete’s primary physician and athletic trainer, and arrangements will be made for appropriate follow-up.

Click here for more information about concussion.

Click here for directions to the Monmouth Neuroscience Out-Patient Area.