Why Helmets Don't Protect our Athletes

Bendigo Advertiser Opinion Feature - March 2019

Cyclists as well as those involved in many other sports wear helmets. And for good reason, as helmets do protect the head — but only from serious skull and traumatic brain injury. 

Logically, this means that helmets should protect against concussion, right? Well no.

Medical studies have repeatedly shown they do not protect the brain from concussion. Why?

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Concern for athletes is not making footy soft

Fairfax Media Opinion Feature

Contrary to the common refrain that concern for athletes' health 'makes footy soft', efforts to make Australian Rules Football a safer sport helps players get the most out of their careers and—more importantly—enjoy health in retirement.   Neurophysiologist Dr Alan Pearce shares his unique insights from working with athletes who've experienced concussion. 

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Post Traumatic Concussion

Exclusive story on Seven News Melbourne with Dr Alan Pearce discussing post traumatic concussion. The impact it has and the research that is needed.

Dr Alan Pearce presents at Amercian College of Sports Medicine (ACSM)

Alan presented a late breaking abstract at the ACSM Annual Meeting  in Minneapolis on June 2, 2018. 

The abstract:

 "Quantifying Head Impact Dynamics in Community Level Australian Rules Football".

This is the first study to present head impact data in Australian Rules Football at the non-elite level. The data collected on head impacts in this study was via an innovative instrumented mouth guard, the first time such a device has been used to collect head impact data in non-elite sport.

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Media Coverage - Concussion News

Sydney Morning Herald

"The effects of concussion linger decades after NRL stars hang up their boots, study suggests"  


BBC Radio UK

"The dangers of concussion, but science can reverse the damage caused by concussions" BBC Rugby podcast


The Age Melbourne

"Greater risk of concussion for women, expert warns as codes beckon women to contact sports"


Talking Concussion

Will a helmet help to protect a concussion?

Part of a series of relaxed discussions with Dr Alan Pearce on the concussion issues being talked about in the community. 

View NeuroPearce Media page for more videos

Landmark NRL concussion study a game changer 

An Australian first study, by Dr Alan Pearce, on retired National Rugby League players has found repeated concussions suffered during their playing careers has impaired their cognitive performance.

Neurophysiological and cognitive impairment following repeated concussion injuries in retired professional rugby league players (pdf)


More News

Scientific Study of mouth guard able to sense head impacts


Dr Pearce is managing a world-first scientific study in conjunction with La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia, to validate this exciting new technology.

The Nexus A9 mouth guard has been developed by Hit IQ, an Australian company, and is designed to provide data to assist medical professionals diagnose concussion by providing scientific based information on head impacts. A successful trial will see the scientific data replace the currently observational assessment currently used.

"Looking after Brain Health playing sport”


How should clubs address sports-related concussion

A community presentation by Dr Alan Pearce

Concussion is a matter at all levels of sport.  In this presentation Alan discusses this important issue from the perspective of community sport. 

The first presentation was in Shepparton, Victoria on October 19, 2017.

Presentation Flyer

Alan Pearce in the media discussing concussion


Alan continues to seek greater research and knowledge on concussion as part of his role to help the community to understand more about this public health issue.

"We must find out more because at the moment it is not just about the answers, it is about asking the right questions. We need to ensure our children are not asking the same questions in 30 years time and we can only ensure this with independent research.

Other News

Dr Alan Pearce on The Run Home on SEN on June 27, 2017 (mp3)


"Looking After Brain Health playing sport" Dr Alan Pearce presents on how clubs should address sports related concussion (pdf)


Alan Pearce presents at the (ACSM)

World First Study Findings


Alan Pearce presented findings from the first ever scientific study on head impacts in Australian Rules Football at the non-elite level at the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) Annual Meeting in Minneapolis in early June.

Dr Pearce managed the world-first scientific study in conjunction with La Trobe University which involved 25-players from the Strathmore Football Club in the Essendon District League in Melbourne wearing an innovative instrumented mouth guard during the 2017 season.

“This was an important study for the community, both in terms of the findings and also on how we collected the data,” said Dr Pearce.

“Through the use of the instrumented mouth guard we were able to measure the intensity, location & direction of impacts to the players head and use this data to better understand the forces players sustain during a game.” 

The results indicate players experienced an average of 8 to 10 impacts per game with the average impacts experienced by players being 33g. This force which equates to between 35 to 50% of what a boxer would experienced when being punched in the head.

Importantly for the community the study concluded the data available from the instrumented mouth guard will better inform medical personnel in the identification and evaluation of at-risk players for concussion.

The mouth guard is considered the best option for accurately measuring head impacts because it is connected directly to the skull through the upper jaw and the instrumented mouth guards used in this study has been developed by an Australian company, Hit IQ who supported the study with product and research funding.

Mike Vegar, Managing Director of Hit IQ, said the 2017 scientific field study was an important step in validating this innovative mouth guard technology (Nexus A9) and developing it for use in community and elite sport to assist the medical profession better understand concussion and help make a real difference in the community

“We are continuing to work with Dr Pearce and La Trobe University in this important community issue by being able to provide scientific data that will assist the medical professionals in both a practical setting and growing the concussion science.”

The American College of Sports Medicine is the largest sports medicine and exercise science organisation in the world with over 50,000 members and certified professional worldwide. The Annual Meeting was held in Minneapolis from May 29 to June 2, 2018. 

Dr Alan Pearce at the ACSM in Minneapolis

Dr Alan Pearce at the ACSM in Minneapolis

Concern for athletes is not making footy soft

Fairfax Media Opinion article by Dr Alan Pearce

From time to time we hear people saying that the game of Australian Rules isn’t what it used to be. 

Its value as a spectator sport has even caused the AFL to recently look into forming a working group, made up of former players, media personalities and commentators, to analyse the “look of the game”.

I can certainly appreciate that aspects of the modern game of Australian football are not to people’s liking, such as the length of matches or tactics like flooding or congestion. These have evolved from the professionalisation of the game, and should be addressed to ensure the sport remains entertaining and exciting to watch.

But while I applaud that concern for impacts to the head is now acknowledged more widely, I’m conscious that many still prioritise the “look of the game” over player safety, lamenting that the game has become “dull” or “soft” since it was “cleaned up”.

Researchers, like myself, investigating the effect of repetitive head impacts have never been about making the game “soft”. 

Rather, we’re about ensuring our athletes, at all levels, are able to see out their careers until their natural end and – importantly – enjoy life when they retire.

We would never expect to prematurely retire because our workplace was unsafe, or because we sustained too many work-related injuries. We advocate for strict safety standards on building sites and in factories. 

We even accept the importance of ergonomic desk set-ups in our air-conditioned offices.

But insist that our footballers, professional and amateur, should be able to play their sport without fear of being unnecessarily injured, and having their career cut short? 

You can’t do that, it will make the game boring.

Don’t get me wrong, physicality in football codes is what attracts people to play and watch these sports. Incidental injuries are part and parcel of all sports. But unnecessary injuries, through dangerous tackles and behind the play biffs, are not part of a safe sporting workplace.

We lament when a young player makes an emotional announcement that their promising career has been cut short due to concern for their long-term brain health because of too many knocks to the head. 

Yet we bemoan the softening of our national sport because of precautions being taken to protect the most important organ in the body. 

We can’t have it both ways.

"Dr Alan Pearce research focuses on short and long-term outcomes of concussion in sport."

"Dr Alan Pearce research focuses on short and long-term outcomes of concussion in sport."