A properly fitted helmet can better protect kids

CDC: 170,000 young athletes go to ER annually with brain injuries

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Every year, thousands of young football players get concussions on the grid iron.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports up to 170,000 young athletes go to the emergency department every year for possible traumatic brain injuries that include concussion.

There's been a push nationwide to make the game of football safer for our athletes.   And experts say one level of protection is a properly fitted helmet.

"It just felt like a big hit, until I got into the locker-room and my head started to hear, and felt nausea and I knew something wasn't right," said 15-year-old Tyler Sloan, one of the thousands of young athletes who received a concussion on the the football field.

Tyler's dad, Gary, is a head high school football coach.  He's also president of the Minnesota Football Coaches Association. His goal in that position?

"We're trying to make the game safer," he said.

Gary turned to experts at Mayo Clinic to make sure his players' helmets are in good condition and fit correctly.

"No helmet can eliminate the possibility of a concussion happening, but the idea of a properly fitted helmet is to reduce the severity of a concussion if it should happen," explained Jim Williams, a certified athletic trainer at Mayo Clinic.

Williams says the the first step to make sure a helmet fist the way it should is to, "Check the helmet for any kind of cracks, any kind of loose straps or clips."

Then, measure the players head one inch above the eyebrow. Next, spray the player down to simulate sweat during a game.  When the helmet's on, it should be one inch above the eyebrow. If it's too low, pump air into the air bladders inside the helmet.  

"Make sure chin straps go underneath the face mask. You want to make sure ear holes line up with the ears and make sure the back of the head is covered," explained Williams.

And the pads inside the helmet should be in good shape. Replace them if they're not.

"We want a good fit, but not one that's too tight that can cause a headache after 30 or 40 minutes on the field," said Williams.

A good fit means the helmet doesn't slide around. 

"You can see the skin's basically moving with the helmet, which is what we want," said Williams.

two or three days after the fitting, check it again. every week thereafter, give it a once over.  

Again, helmets will not stop concussions from happening.

"But if we can reduce them as much as possible we feel like we're doing a better job for our kids," added Gary.

Williams says after helmet fittings, it's important for coaches, equipment managers and athletic trainers to check them every week to make sure they're in good shape and still fitting properly.

Also, he says all school and sports clubs should replace helmets after 10 years of use, no matter what per manufacturer's requirements.

Mayo Clinic here in Jacksonville is offering free concussion testing at its Primary Care Centers.   It takes about 20 minutes and you need to make an appointment.  To schedule a test, call 904-953-2272.

Doctors say even if you've done it before,  its best to repeat the test annually because as your kids grow, their brains grow, too.

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