Conversations about concussions often naturally turn into conversations about helmets, and unfortunately, this talk is usually uninformative or inaccurate. The talk ranges from star ratings to blaming helmets for concussions to seeking a new helmet as a quick-fix solution to a player’s severe concussion issue.
One line of thinking is that helmets “can’t prevent concussions” and therefore one’s particular helmet choice doesn’t really matter. This logic supports the fallacy that “a helmet’s a helmet” and any company that tells you its helmet is better is lying.
This false logic arises in part from the fact that a helmet will not guarantee concussion prevention. However, this does mean that helmets “can’t prevent concussions.” It is likely that helmets often prevent concussions, just not 100% of the time.
The false logic of “a helmet’s a helmet” also arises in part from the fact that clinically comparing helmets to each other for concussion reduction is very difficult if not impossible, leading to a lack of evidence to support a clear benefit of one helmet over another in this regard. Gathering clinical information on concussions is no doubt challenging. However the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. A lack of clinical evidence has caused many people to make the “argument from ignorance” that helmets don’t matter.
Just because definitive proof has not yet been gathered about a particular helmet’s ability to reduce the risk of concussions by any specific degree, it does not mean there is no helmet that reduces the risk of concussion more than others. It may just be that the data to prove this hasn’t yet been gathered. It doesn’t mean a superior product doesn’t exist, and it certainly doesn’t mean it can’t be developed.
A defeatist attitude, and statements like “no helmet can prevent concussions,” not only spread the wrong message, they potentially hinder innovation by minimizing investment in new technology. The willingness of teams or individuals to purchase new products may also be minimized, leaving populations of players in older products that may be less than optimal.
While we may not yet completely understand the effects of any given helmet on a particular person or population, what’s on your head when it gets hit matters. The difference between helmet technologies is important. Concussive episodes result from sudden movements of the head: minimizing sudden movement of the head, even by millimeters and milliseconds, may have dramatic effects.
The human body is very susceptible to small changes, meaning that millimeters and milliseconds count. To prove this, go for a run in your wooden heeled work shoes, and note how your ankles, knees, and hips feel afterwards. The difference between wooden heels and typical running shoes is millimeters and milliseconds of compression.
A helmet is not a helmet. What’s on your head when it gets hit matters. It matters just as much as, and arguably much more than, what is on your feet when you go for a run.