BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Indiana University football kicks off their season in a few short weeks, and when they do, the Hoosiers will do so knowing they have thousands of dollars in equipment strapped to their heads.
The university spent roughly $130,000 on state-of-the-art helmets a year ago. The results?
"We did have a few less concussions last year," said IU Athletics Chief Medical Officer Dr. Andy Hipskind, who also admitted they can't scientifically prove it was from the helmets. "The brain is floating in the skull, and whenever there is an abrupt acceleration-deceleration change, that brain can bump into the inside part of the hard skull. Contrary to a lot of popular beliefs, helmets do not prevent concussions."
While the helmets can't stop concussions, Dr. Hipskind said the helmets can help mitigate certain factors.
Riddell helmets feature a custom, memory foam-like padding inside. Each helmet is formed to the individual player through a 3D scan of the player's head. The padding is then created from the scan to perfectly match the player's head shape. The helmet becomes unique to that player.
Dr. Hipskind said the proper fitting allows for increased sight lines, which can aid a player in bracing for impact earlier if they can see contact sooner. The memory foam is also an improvement on helmets that have air-filled padding. Dr. Hipskind said players often alter the helmets after fitting sessions to be more comfortable. The new helmets can not be adjusted.
“Whenever a player would self manipulate a helmet somehow, now you are losing the proper fit. You are losing stability,” said Dr. Hipskind. This increases the chance for injury.
Let's say you're a high school or youth league that can't afford to pay $1,000 per helmet. What can you do? Dr. Hipskind recommends creating a systematic and educated helmet fitting process. Teaching proper tackling technique and reducing the amount of full contact drills will also reduce the risks for concussions.