Inflatable bladders help helmets fit snugly and absorb and redistribute force from a blow to the head. Wearing helmets with inflatable bladders that fit well can help football players prevent concussions. However, a recent study found that many players wear helmets that do not fit snugly and do not keep their bladders inflated. This can make them more susceptible to concussions.
Researchers at Idaho State University studied 261 high school football players in the Intermountain West region. They found that 97.5 percent of them wore helmets that needed to be inflated every week, but that 43 percent never inflated their helmets during the 12- to 16-week 2013 football season. A total of 87.7 percent did not reinflate their bladders every week as manufacturers recommend.
The researchers found that almost one in five of the study’s participants wore helmets that did not fit correctly. Over 78 percent did not inflate their helmets on a regular basis because they did not believe they needed air.
Nineteen percent said they had been diagnosed with a concussion in the 2013 football season. As many as 87.3 percent reported experiencing at least one concussion symptom, and 56.3 percent experienced three or more concussion symptoms. Players with helmets that did not fit correctly were 3.2 times more likely to be diagnosed with a concussion or to have three or more symptoms of a concussion.
The researchers believe coaches and athletes need to be better educated on how to ensure that helmets fit properly and on the importance of keeping them inflated. They recommend inspecting helmets on a weekly basis and making air pumps available to players. They also suggested that coaches and administrators could purchase helmets that do not need to be inflated.
Inflatable helmet bladders were introduced in 1969. Their design has not changed much in the past 45 years. Many helmet companies have added additional interior padding for extra protection from injury.