WASHINGTON (AP) - There is no concussion-proof football helmet, but manufacturers may soon have to meet new testing standards against certain concussion-causing forces - a step in the quest for more protection.
The organization that sets safety standards for athletic equipment was preparing to adopt the testing criteria on Friday.
It is part of a movement to try to make contact sports safer, as concern about concussions is growing. There’s even a new smartphone app to help parents and coaches recognize right away if a player may have a brain injury.
Football helmets were designed to protect against catastrophic injuries such as skull fractures and bleeding in the brain, and are considered highly effective at that. They’re tested for how they withstand direct blows, so-called linear forces that can make the brain bump back and forth.
The proposed new standard would add an additional test of how helmets perform when an impact also makes a player’s head suddenly spin, causing the brain to stretch and twist inside the skull as it changes direction. Scientists call that rotational acceleration, and brain specialists say limiting both kinds of forces is important.
“We’re plowing new ground here,” Mike Oliver, executive director of the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment, told The Associated Press.
The hope is that the standard might eventually spur safer helmet designs.
“I don’t believe helmets will ever be the sole solution for concussion,” said Dr. Robert Cantu, a Boston University neurologist, a leading sports concussion expert and vice president of the athletic equipment standards committee. But, “it puts us on the road to developing helmets that will lessen the chance for concussion.”
Once the standard goes into effect, expected in about a year, it would apply only to new helmets.
“We don’t foresee any need to replace all the helmets that exist with new and different helmets,” Oliver said. “This is a first step.”
Concern about concussions is growing amid headlines about former professional players who suffered long-term impairment after repeated blows to the head. It’s not just football; concussions occur in a range of sports, from hockey and lacrosse to soccer and wrestling. Children and teens, with their still developing brains, appear at special risk.
The Institute of Medicine, an independent organization that advises the government, warned last fall that too many young athletes still face a play-at-all-costs culture that discourages reporting the injury and staying on the sidelines until it’s healed.
Although millions of U.S. children and teens play school or community sports, it’s not clear how many suffer concussions, in part because many go undiagnosed. The Institute of Medicine said 250,000 people 19 and younger were treated in emergency rooms for concussions and other sports- or recreation-related brain injuries in 2009.
“Parents and coaches need to be prepared and educated about what the nature of this injury is,” advised neuropsychologist Gerard Gioia of Children’s National Medical Center in Washington and medical adviser to USA Football.
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s “heads-up” campaign teaches signs of concussion - which may not appear right away - and what steps to take. Symptoms include confusion, weakness, appearing dazed or stunned, lack of coordination, mood or behavior changes and even a brief loss of consciousness. Recent guidelines say anyone suspected of having a concussion should be taken out of play immediately and not allowed back until cleared by a trained professional.