football helmet

On professional and amateur levels, head injuries, including concussions, are common sports injuries. Athletes of all ages and abilities wear helmets as a safety mechanism to protect against head injuries ranging from trauma resulting from crashes to minor bumps and bruises.

While helmets can provide protection from injuries including skull fractures, it is actually a common myth that helmets prevent concussions. An estimated 1.8 to 3.6 million concussions occur per year in the United States in sports and recreational activities, even when athletes wear helmets.

For more information, visit UPMC’s ReThink Concussions website.

helmets and concussion

Never Miss a Beat!

Get Healthy Tips Sent to Your Phone!

Message and data rates may apply. Text the word STOP to opt out and HELP for help. Click here to view the privacy and terms.

Football Helmet

  • Basic components: Full helmet covering ears, chin strap, face mask, mouth guard
  • Outer shell: Made of polycarbonate (plastic)
  • Inner shell: Made of specifically engineered liners used for protection and proper fit with extra padding under ear to protect the jaw
  • Chin strap: Helps to secure the helmet to the athlete’s head
  • Face mask: There are different types depending on position played to allow for better visibility or protection

Fun fact: The NFL made helmets mandatory in 1943.

Fun fact: In the 1970s, the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment introduced performance standard guidelines.

Batting Helmet

  • Basic components:Full helmet covering back and sides of head and at least one ear
  • Outer shell: Can range from plastic to more durable polymers
  • Inner shell: Made of foam padding to protect skull against stray pitches
  • Side flap: Should cover at least one ear – whichever one faces the pitcher
  • Proper fit: Should be secure but not squeeze the head

Fun fact: In 1941, the Brooklyn Dodgers became the first team to wear helmets during regular season games.

Fun fact: The MLB made helmets mandatory in 1971.

Hockey Helmet

  • Basic components: Designed to provide a secure grip on the side and back of head, most include face cage and shield
  • Outer shell: Composed of plastic, or lighter composite materials
  • Inner shell: Made of vinyl nitrile or a similar material with the intention to absorb energy and add a layer of protection between outer shell and head
  • Face cage: Depends on position played, but can offer full coverage. The majority of helmets come with a shield to provide protection and maintain full visibility.
  • Proper fit: Sizes vary based on head measurements and helmets are adjustable

Fun fact: The NHL made helmets mandatory in 1979.


  • Basic components: Full head coverage with three protective layers designed to distribute the impact during crashes when head can move uncontrollably
  • Outer shell: First line of defence to absorbe energy, made of a fiberglass/carbon fiber composition
  • Middle layer: Comprised of a foam lining that is intended to absorb energy not absorbed by outer shell
  • Inner layer: Form-fitted padding made of nylon or a fire-resistant material

Fun fact: In 2001, NASCAR began enforcing full face mask helmets. “The Auto Union made helmets mandatory in 1914, but hard-shell helmets weren’t designed until the 1950s.

To learn more about concussions, head injuries, and how to protect against them, visit the UPMC Sports Medicine Concussion Program online. Understand more about managing concussions, as well as testing and treatment for concussions and information from the latest studies.

About Sports Medicine

An athletic lifestyle carries the potential for injury. Whether you’re an elite athlete or a weekend warrior, UPMC Sports Medicine can help. If you are looking to prevent, treat, or rehabilitate a sports injury, our multidisciplinary team of experts can help you get back into the game. If you are seeking to improve your athletic performance, we can work with you to meet your goals. We serve athletes and active people of all ages and experience levels. Our goal is to help you keep doing what you love. Visit our website to find a specialist near you.