Play it Safe: Basics of Proper Helmet Use

If you or your child plays sports or participates in physically risky activities, wearing a helmet could be lifesaving. While no helmet is concussion-proof, wearing one can help reduce the risk of serious head injuries.

"Helmets are made with materials that help reduce impact to the head, protecting the skull from damage," says Jeffrey Kutcher, M.D., a sports neurologist who treats athletes at the Henry Ford Kutcher Clinic for Concussion and Sports Neurology. "You should be wearing a helmet whether you're playing a contact sport or riding something on a hard surface, such as a bike, scooter, skateboard or rollerblades."

Head Injury Prevention 101: Helmet Buying Basics

All helmets are certified at the same level for multi-use recreational activities. So there's no need to search for a specific seal or rating. Instead, when you're purchasing a helmet — or getting one second-hand — focus on these four factors:

How you’ll use it:

Pay attention to the risks involved with the activity you're doing. If you're biking, skiing or snowboarding, for example, you're wearing a helmet in case you get hit, not because you'll get hit.

There are two types of helmets: single-impact and multiple-impact. Single-impact helmets are made with foam materials that break down when hit as part of their force mitigating strategy. These helmets work well for bicycling, skateboarding, skiing or snowboarding. Multiple-impact helmets, such as those designed for sports like football, hockey and lacrosse, can withstand many hits over an entire season. The materials in these helmets don't break down, but rather compress and regain their original form.

"A helmet may perform better in the lab — for example, the dummy brain will experience 98Gs of force instead of 100Gs — but 2Gs of force probably won't make enough of a difference with a one-time injury," Dr. Kutcher says. "But 2Gs less force per hit for a linebacker who suffers multiple blows on a daily basis for many years? That could make a big difference.”

If football is your sport, the National Football League provides a helmet rating system that assesses helmets based on their ability to mitigate force over time.

How it fits:

Helmets fit differently depending on the make, style and type of sport they’re made for. "The key is making sure the helmet covers the entire skull and doesn't move around when in use," Dr. Kutcher says. The helmet should sit on the head without falling forward or backward. If you're relying only on a chinstrap to keep it in place, you don't have the right fit.

How comfortable it is:

Not all helmet brands fit every head. Helmet designs vary just like running shoes do. When you're shopping for a helmet, make sure it's snug, but not tight or uncomfortable. Comfort is critical, especially for kids. "You don't want a child to develop a negative association with wearing a protective helmet," Dr. Kutcher says.

What condition it’s in:

To get the most protection, your helmet should be in top condition. Do not wear a cracked or broken helmet, or one that has been involved in a crash or similar event (unless it's a multiple-impact design). An impact can crush foam materials. And don't allow the helmet to get too hot or cold — that can cause the materials to break down over time.

Get the Best Helmet Fit for Your Head

Properly wearing a helmet provides the greatest defense against injury — more than any style or brand. To make sure your helmet is secure, follow these rules:

· Measure head circumference: Every helmet brand provides a size chart, along with instructions about how to select the best fit. To get the best measurement, use a cloth tape to measure your head circumference. Place the tape about an inch above the eyebrows, keeping it level from front to back. If the measurement falls between sizes, select the smaller size.

· Pay attention to hairstyles: Make sure to try the helmet on with the hairstyle you'll have during the activity. A long-haired bike rider who gets a short haircut may require a helmet adjustment.

· Watch your vision: The helmet should not block your vision. You should be able to see straight ahead and side to side.

To Wear a Helmet or Not To Wear a Helmet: When to Play It Safe

There are several sports that don't require wearing a helmet. But if you or your child is involved in rugby or soccer, or another sport where helmets are optional, that doesn’t mean you're in the clear.

"It's important to base any decision about whether or not to wear a helmet in conjunction with your sports neurologist," notes Dr. Kutcher. "Your past medical history and current health status may still warrant the use of a helmet."

Unsure whether you're at risk of sustaining a head injury? Get a brain health baseline evaluation. Proper consideration of your brain health includes a physical examination, along with a personal and family medical and neurological history. It also offers you an opportunity to learn how to best protect your head.

Dr. Jeffrey Kutcher is a sports neurologist at the Henry Ford Concussion and Sports Neurology Clinic and the global director of the Kutcher Clinic.

Want to learn more? Henry Ford Health System sports medicine experts are treating the whole athlete, in a whole new way. From nutrition to neurology, and from injury prevention to treatment of sports-related conditions, they can give your athlete a unique game plan.

Visit henryford.com/sports or call (313) 972-4216 for an appointment within 24 business hours.

How To Warm Up Correctly Before Playing Different Sports

July 10, 2024

When you see professional athletes gearing up to race or getting ready to take the field, you’ll notice that they’re always in motion. That’s because they are warming up in preparation for going all out.

Henry Ford HealthAnd there’s a good reason why you’ll never see a pro go straight from the bench into a full sprint. “You need to allow your muscles to gradually accept the demands of your activity,” says Jennifer Burnham, a certified athletic trainer at Henry Ford Health. “Otherwise you risk causing an injury.”

Why You Should Warm Up

As the name implies, a warmup is a series of movements designed to warm up your muscles. “You want to increase blood flow to your muscles and loosen up and lubricate your joints,” says Burnham. “And you need to do it gradually, so that your body has time to adapt to the increasing intensity.”

Warming up involves more than just stretching. According to Burnham, studies have actually shown that holding a static stretch when muscles are cold can decrease performance. “Instead, before activity you want to do a dynamic warmup that incorporates movement as well as some gentle stretching."

Your warmup only needs to take 5 to 10 minutes. When deciding what to do, think about the movements you’ll be doing in your activity and which muscles and joints are most involved. Then choose movements that slowly get them warmed up and primed for more intense action.

How To Warm Up For Different Activities

No matter your sport, the warmup before your workout should include some exercises to activate and engage your core (the abdominal and back muscles). “Waking up those muscles helps decrease injury potential,” says Burnham. She suggests incorporating bridges and mini squats (no deeper than 45 degrees) into your warmup routine. To do a bridge, lie on your back, knees bent, feet flat on the floor. Tighten your stomach muscles and squeeze your butt as you lift your hips up to form a straight line from knees to shoulders.

The rest of your warmup can be more specific to muscles and movements of your planned activity.

Running

Before a run, or even a jog, you want to warm up all the muscles and joints from the waist down.

  • Rotate your hips (lift your knee up and do some circles in both directions to move the joint) and ankles (circle one foot at a time both clockwise and counter-clockwise).
  • Get powerful muscles like your glutes and quads ready with high knees and butt kicks.
  • Walk on your toes and then on your heels to warm up shin and calf muscles.
  • When you’re ready to run, start off slowly and gradually increase your speed.

Racquet sports

You still need to warm up your lower body using the same moves as the running warmup. But you’ll want to add in others specific to the upper body movements of tennis, pickleball or other racket sports.

  • Warm up shoulders with big arm circles both forwards and backwards
  • Circle your hands in both directions to get wrists ready for action
  • Lunge forward and rotate your upper torso to increase your spine mobility

Basketball, soccer and football

You want to make sure your lower body has time to adapt to the demands of sports that require bursts of sprinting and quick shifts of direction. Your warmup should gradually increase in speed and intensity as you move your body in all directions:

  • Side shuffles while swinging your arms (shuffle in both directions)
  • Grapevines in both directions
  • Skip forward, lifting knees high, then skip backward

Swimming

Prepping your body for a swimming workout means warming up your arms, shoulders and upper back.

  • Circle arms backwards and forwards
  • Use a light resistance band to do shoulder rows
  • Use a light resistance band or light dumbbell and lift straight arms up to shoulder height in front and to your sides
  • Start with an easy tempo freestyle swim before going into more dynamic strokes like butterfly

Jennifer Burnham is an athletic trainer who sees patients at the Henry Ford Center for Athletic Medicine in Detroit.

To find a sports medicine provider at Henry Ford Health, visit henryford.com/athletes or call 313-651-1969.