New protective cap aims to reduce concussions

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Head injuries and concussions caused by contact sports have become a fast growing epidemic. From the professional level down to youth sports, the ripple effect has been dramatic.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, concussions in kids aged 8 to 13 years old have doubled, and in teens, they’ve risen 200 percent in the last decade.

Sport Shieldz, an Aurora-based company, is dedicated to making headwear that protects not only athletes but anyone from suffering a concussion. It looks similar to a beanie and it’s worn underneath a helmet to not only provide extra comfort but to protect your skull in case of an injury.

“People like myself want to save the integrity of the sport. We want to keep the sport the same but make it safer,” said Bill Jennings, Sport Shieldz founder and CEO.

What started as a simple solution to making helmets more comfortable quickly evolved into something much more.

“Not only could we make the helmet more comfortable if we pick the right padding, but we could also maybe increase the helmet’s protective characteristics by helping the helmet conform better to the head,” said Jennings.

The cap in turn serves two purposes. The first is helping the ordinary helmet conform to the un-ordinary head, and the second is providing added cushion to protect your skull.

After a series of impact tests with different types of padding, Jennings and his colleagues settled on XRD padding which uses open cell technology.

“I got two pool balls here and as I drop this pool ball on this padding, this padding is doing what it’s supposed to do,” said Jennings. “It’s absorbing energy, but it’s absorbing energy down to the host and that’s what you can hear it hitting. You can hear it making contact with the host. In this padding [yellow] here’s what’s happening. When the ball is dropped on this padding, the energy is redirected outward, so if I dump both at the same time, it pretty much speaks for itself.”

This telling example caught the attention of Douglas County’s brain injury resource team, who deals firsthand with youth concussions.

“Once a student has a concussion, we know from research, that they are significantly, substantially more likely to have another one,” said Dr. Peter Thompson, the district’s resource team coordinator.

Whether it’s cycling, skiing, football or even horseback riding, athletes who wear the cap reduce their risk of a concussion by 35 percent, according to Sport Shieldz website.

“Every collision is different,” said Jennings. “What we’re hoping to do is to make sure that whatever that collision is, we’re able to decrease the amount of g-force that’s penetrated through the helmet on that particular collision.”

In Douglas County, between 900 and 1,100 kids suffer head injuries each year, and when they do, the district follows a concussion protocol which not only involves contact with parents but academic restrictions.

“What does the brain do?,” said Thompson. “It thinks, and so we don’t want a kid thinking too hard because it activates certain regions of the brain and it prolongs the recovery period.”

Prior to the sports season, each student is required to take a baseline test which assesses verbal and visual memory, processing speed, and reaction time, which are all cognitive functions that can go offline when hit.

“So we have baseline data of how a student performs without a head injury, who they are naturally,” said Thompson. “If they do get hit, then we compare their baseline performance with their post-injury performance.”

Students can’t return to action until their cognitive skills are back to normal.

The company says the Sport Shieldz cap is not only effective for athletes but can also be multi-use. Preliminary trials with special needs kids, especially those with autism, are proving promising.

“It gives us a chance when a student becomes emotionally frustrated, we can get to them before they start hurting themselves, banging their heads or hitting themselves in their head,” said Thompson.

Movies like Will Smith’s “Concussion” and the $1 billion lawsuit brought forth by former players against the NFL have brought conversation about concussions and the lasting effects of head injuries to the forefront.

“The earlier group of professional football players did not fully understand, they didn’t have a full informed consent,” said Thompson. “I think the earlier group may have known there might have been some consequences to hitting your head over and over again, but they may have thought once I’m healed up, I’m healed up like a sprained ankle.”

Thompson said one of the biggest misconceptions of suffering a concussion includes losing total consciousness and being hit directly in the head. In reality, neither has to happen. Any significant blow to the body, like whiplash, can cause a concussion.

Sport Shieldz recommends buying the cap first before purchasing a helmet to ensure that both the cap and the helmet fit properly and comfortably.

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