Are all Football Helmets Created Equal?

High school football helmets’ price doesn’t denote protection abilities


Helmets are a football players’ first defense against concussions, and it makes sense that parents would want the best helmet for their star player. But does a higher price mean more protection?

According to a press release issued by the University of Colorado, Denver, a new study found that all approved helmets, regardless of cost, offer similar levels of protection against concussions. The study also found that older, recently reconditioned helmets provide similar protection to their newer, more expensive counterparts.

"All of the approved helmets evaluated in our study performed similarly," senior author Dawn Comstock, Ph.D., said in the press release. Comstock is the associate professor of epidemiology at the Program for Injury Prevention, Education and Research (PIPER) at the Colorado School of Public Health.

For a helmet to be approved, it must meet the safety standards of the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment (NOCSAE). This is a National Federation of State High School Association requirement.

To conduct the study, Comstock and her team examined high school football concussion and helmet data collected from 2008-2009 through 2012-2013 as part of the National High School Sports-Related Injury Surveillance System, High School RIO (Reporting Information Online). This study is the first to evaluate helmet performance in actual games rather than laboratory testing.

Participating schools reported 2,900 football concussions per 3,528,790 athletic exposures, with a rate of 8.2 concussions per 10,000 athletic exposures.

The researchers compared concussion data from players wearing different helmets. They found that the number of concussion symptoms, symptom resolution time and time until the injured player was cleared to return to play were all about the same, regardless of which helmet was used.

"Increased cost does not necessarily translate to improved safety," Comstock said.

Additionally, older helmets that had been reconditioned within 12 months prior to use performed similarly to newer helmets. Players who wore older helmets that had not been recently reconditioned suffered longer concussion symptoms than those wearing new helmets.

Researchers urge parents to play an active role in their high school football player’s safety by insisting schools follow the reconditioning guidelines of the helmet manufactures.

"Many parents don't think to ask if the helmet issued to their child is new or previously used or, if not new, when it was last reconditioned," Comstock said. "Parents should be asking questions and not assuming that the helmet assigned to their child is safe."

This study was published in the American Journal of Sports Medicine. It was funded in part by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the National Center for Research Resources and the National Federation of State High School Associations, of which one or more authors declared to be a potential conflict of interest.