Experts say protective headgear doesn’t prevent concussion in sports

26 April 2023

Written by: Gemma Dimitrijevski

Studies have found that headgear doesn't protect the brain from concussions.

Australian experts have warned that wearing protective headgear in sports doesn’t prevent concussions.

A Senate inquiry will be held in Melbourne on Wednesday, investigating concussions in sport.

A 2005 study of 304 rugby union players in New Zealand found that “the risk of concussion was not lessened by the use of padded headgear or mouthguards”.

A more recent 2022 study into padded headgear of 400 junior AFL players found that “headgear use was not associated with reduced risk of suspected sports-related concussion”.

A review of these findings correlate with lab testings which suggest that padded headgear is “unable to absorb additional force well below the threshold at which concussions occur”.

Professor Alan Pearce, a neurophysiologist and concussion researcher at La Trobe University, said that protective headgear can prevent skull fractures, but doesn’t stop brain tissue from moving inside the skull.

“When you’re looking at 120kg blokes hitting each other at 35km per hour, the cerebrospinal fluid doesn’t actually protect the brain, it makes it more likely that the brain will move in the skull,” he said.

“The fact that you’re getting exposed to multiple repetitive impacts over a playing career increases the risk of CTE [chronic traumatic encephalopathy] developing.”

Professor Pearce added that children’s sport should be modified to reduce the risk of exposure to head injury from a young age.

“The answer is actually reducing exposure. So don’t just pad our kids up in helmets and whatnot – let’s actually modify the sports until the age of 14 to reduce that exposure for the first say, eight or nine years.”

Professor Frances Corrigan, a researcher for the School of Biomedicine at the University of Adelaide, agreed that headgear doesn’t stop the movement of the brain, and that there’s room for modification in children’s sports.

“It’s not to say that kids shouldn’t be involved in sport, but it’s just being mindful about modifying … that involvement,” she said.

Researches at the University of Cambridge have found that even a mild concussion can cause long-lasting damage to the brain, which can go unrecognised and untreated.

Doctor Emmanuel Stamatakis from the Department of Clinical Neurosciences and Division of Anaesthesia at the University of Cambridge said that there’s been an increase in cases of mild traumatic brain injury appearing after concussions.

“At present, we have no clear way of working out which of these patients will have a speedy recovery and which will take longer, and the combination of over-optimistic and imprecise prognoses means that some patients risk not receiving adequate care for their symptoms,” he said.


Photo: Football injury by Fred Dawson available HERE and used under a Creative Commons license. This image has not been modified.