How helmets ward off head injuries

A look at the functions of a football helmet and how they minimize concussions
Xenith X2 youth football helmet

Photograph by Gregory Miller

In 2011 researchers at Virginia Tech published a new star safety rating system for football helmets — and last winter, they concluded that wearing the right headgear can reduce a player’s risk of concussion by more than 50 percent. So ask your child’s coach or athletic director about helmets, especially for football; they should be reconditioned and recertified at least every two years. Ask who inspects helmets and how often, and examine helmets for obvious damage to the shell or padding.

Hard outer shell
To withstand multiple impacts, primarily from other players and other helmets; distributes impact of force over a larger area.

Face guard
Required; various styles permitted, depending on position played (more coverage for position like lineman, where there’s lots of impact; less coverage for position like kicker).

Protective system
Either foam padding, thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU), molded cone padding, or air shock absorbers; covers almost all of inside of helmet.

Chin strap
Required; cups chin tightly and keeps helmet in place during impact.

The right fit for any sport
A helmet that doesn’t fit is not safe no matter how well it’s constructed. The Consumer Product Safety Commission offers the following advice for fitting helmets:
‣ Helmets should be comfortable and fit snugly.
‣ They should be level—not tilted back over the top of the head or pulled too low over the forehead.
‣ They shouldn’t wobble loosely back-to-front or side-to-side.
‣ Chin straps should be securely buckled to hold the helmet in place during a collision.
‣ Try on a helmet before purchasing it.

This article originally appeared in our 2014 Health issue.