What Are the Experts Saying About Guardian Caps

13 Sep

This post has no intention of being inflammatory, rather it is a post designed to hold a conversation and create a counter point.  I have been bombarded with information regarding this product; since early 2011 I have not been “on board” with this.  It is important to note that this product and its PR firm have been good at communicating with me and have listened, but I do find some of the press regarding this product and similar ones is a bit off base.  We do need to understand that what reporters and people say – not affiliated with the product – cannot be controlled buy the company.  So that being said I have found and have some opinions on the recent spike of press.  Take it for what you want.  Just know that I am trying to provide information for everyone to make their own decisions.

It began in 2011 rolling into 2012 when Guardian Caps shot me an email about their product.  And from the beginning I was not sold on the promises or the theory.  It’s quite simple in my estimation; you can wrap an egg up in 45 pounds of bubble wrap and if you shake it hard enough the yolk will still move or even break.  Essentially that is a concussion in an “egg-shell”.  Sure, the bubble wrap will stop all linear forces from cracking the shell and even prevent it from moving with those linear forces, but what is it doing to for the acceleration and deceleration of the concussion?  Moreover, even though it may be very light, we are adding mass to the head, thus we are creating a fulcrum change and balance change.  If you read here enough you know what I am talking about.

However, I have seen fellow athletic trainers rave about this and plenty of teams/coaches/schools adopt this product and even consult me on it, so I thought I would do my best to get the most information possible, on my own.  This company was willing to provide me with all the information they thought I needed, so good for them.  It really came to a head recently, while in the midst of the NOCSAE statement on 3rd party add-on’s, I received this email from the company;

Dustin,

I wanted to drop a line about both the Aug 9th article “NOCSAE Press Release Clarifies” and a short picture of our product and company as a whole.  Thanks for all your hard work with The Concussion Blog.  It is a valuable resource and you do a great job presenting an educated, unbiased view.

About NOCSAE certification:

  • If companies want to sell equipment that alters the original tested/certified helmet THEY or the individual must re-certify each helmet model it is placed on – adult and youth separate but not sizes.
    • Yes, but only if the helmet manufacturer declares its NOCSAE certification void by the use of an add-on.  None of the helmet manufacturers have not issued any statements with this declaration.  Since they are the only” ones able to declare the certification void, the certification stands. This is not our interpretation.  It’s the interpretation of the NFHS (see attached letter to Guardian owner Lee Hanson). I think you already understood this, based on the “Also I have not read anywhere where this will be deemed “illegal” and helmets cannot be worn if there is not the re-certification” paragraph, and I appreciate your interpretation and keen observation that these statements center on the liability aspect.  However, most of the consumers that we speak with are confused that it is about safety, which is a shame.
  • After re-certification the third-party is now responsible for the liability of the helmet, basically indemnifying the helmet maker and NOCSAE
    • Yes. We are working with NOCSAE to find a way to re-certify with the Guardian and are prepared to accept liability for the helmet + Guardian combination when this process is completed in the future (more on this below).

Wouldn’t it just be easier if we tested according to NOCSAE standards and became certified?  Yes. Of course. We’ve been asking for this since before we started selling the product and were ignored or denied until these statements came out roughly one year and seven months after we entered the marketplace.  However, it isn’t a matter of the lack of resources or the fact that we are ignorant to the importance of NOCSAE certification and hedging liability. It is a matter of the NOCSAE testing protocols being so rigid and specific that we cannot test according to them.  It’s a linear drop test. Yes, we’ve done many a linear drop test and we are below the threshold of 1200 SI.  But NOCSAE is careful to distinguish the helmet from the face guard and requires that helmets be tested without face guards. How are we to test the helmet + Guardian combination for certification if we only attach to the faceguard?  Herein lies the issue at hand.

We’re talking with NOCSAE to find a way to certify the Guardian to their protocols so that this will not be an issue. Why the other companies (sensors + other add-on padding companies) have not sought NOCSAE compliance before now is beyond me.

As far as our product and company go:

I know that you’ve taken issue with things about us before and I don’t blame you.  The Athletic Trainer, and especially you as an advising ATC due to your blog platform, are responsible for doing due diligence and making sure products are safe and/or effective before implementation.  We definitely have a ways to go in collecting outcome data to support the product.  We believe that we have solid biomechanical data that shows that the Guardian could potentially help. We do not know to what extent.  What most do not realize is that to acquire such outcome data, you have to have a product that warrants the time, energy, and expense of a third party to evaluate it.

I understand your skepticisms and requests for more data.  We’re working hard to get it for ATCs around the country that feel the same way as you do.  Ron Courson at UGA is in the same boat and I appreciate the honesty and due diligence. Hopefully we’ll be able to have it sooner rather than later.  Other ATCs and physicians feel that we have enough biomechanical data showing that the Guardian does not add risk and are implementing thinking that it will help and interested to see how far it translates, if at all, to reduces injuries for their athletes.

In the meantime, we’ll market the product as what it is: an impact reducer.  We work hard to try and get an overall image that does not convey that the athlete is protected from a concussion.

Lastly, we realize that equipment innovation can only go so far. We feel that the Guardian is just a small piece of the overall protection plan. Other aspects are more important, especially diagnosis, return to play, and technique.

Best of luck this season and keep up the good work on the blog.

-          Matt

Matt Simonds

National Sales Coordinator

I truly appreciated Matt reaching out to me, it was very cordial and very honest.  However the last emphasized portion (italics) of his email struck me; if they are working hard to not get an overall image of concussion protection then why do they allow stories from the press that paint that picture?  At least write it and have them correct or provide some dialogue from the company distancing themselves from this.  In my opinion, I do believe the company isn’t trying to sell this as concussion abatement, but it sure looks that way.  You know what they say about perception…

==========

In the meantime, a good friend and advocate for concussion safety – Katherine Price Snedaker - of PinkConcussions.com and SportsCAPP.com wrote a post about her concerns with this product;

“Hey, mom, we have these new igloo caps in football and they reduced concussions by 80%,” reported a 5th grade, first-time football player to his mom in a local town in Fairfield County.

Two weeks ago a local paper ran a very misleading article concerning Guardian Caps in which the Guardian Cap was called “concussion caps” multiple times and the caps were “concussion prevention.” The reporter continued to summarize their use as “It is probably overstatement to suggest the difference is getting hit by a truck as opposed to getting hit by a pillow.

Over the last two years, I have had “communications” with Guardian Caps about the way in the past they have marketed this product with sometimes less than factual detail, and so I called Guardian about this article. My concern was that now the flawed newspaper article was on the internet and would be googled and read by some parents as fact. Guardian said they did not supply any information to this reporter and they agreed it was poorly written piece, but there was nothing they could do about it.

The Guardian site now has a clear warning in the footer of every page;  “*No helmet, practice apparatus, or helmet pad can prevent or eliminate the risk of concussions or other serious head injuries while playing sports. Researchers have not reached an agreement on how the results of impact absorption tests relate to concussions. No conclusions about a reduction of risk or severity of concussive injury should be drawn from impact absorption tests.”

Under the Science & Facts section of their website, Guardian has just one quote in the “What Experts are saying section,” with no author mentioned here other than the source is a October 10, 2012 blog post from “McGill University Physics Professor Review “Newton’s Cradle: Colliding Football Helmets: Physics 101″ ; and below the quote, Guardian has posted, “This is an individual’s opinion and has not been substantiated by any scientific study.”

Guardian stated there was nothing they could do about the article so I then wondered what the high schools mentioned in the article knew of the issues around Guardian so I decided to contact those schools. I wanted to know if schools understood the limitations and the possible liability issues around using an add-on product and if they had notified the parents and the student athletes. I emailed the schools – see my original email and all source documents with links are below (thanks to several people on this list who reviewed and helped me with this effort).


My first concern was if the schools know Guardian Caps does not have scientific research to support that it can prevent or reduce concussion. No helmet or device attached to a helmet can prevent a concussion at this point in time. I supplied the schools with a number of advisories by NOCSAE have been issued on these products. Links below.
My second concern was regarding the potential liability to the school district by attaching this product (which is called a 3rd party add-on) to the football helmet. By using the Guardian Cap, schools may possibly void the helmet manufacture’s warranty and void the NOCSEA certification.  I provided the schools  the NOCSAE advisory that had been issued on these types of “3rd party add” products. This is an issue in Colorado and some Colorado schools who have been using the Guardian Caps since 2012, are considering banning its use.
 

What I discovered in contacting the schools is not only are high school students now wearing these caps, but in some places Guardian Caps are being used on middle school and elementary students as young as third graders who playing tackle football. Guardian only began shipping product in the Spring 2012, and so there is only one year of experience using these caps on high school age students. Before research is even begun on a large scale to test what effect this cap has on high school players, the product is now being worn on more vulnerable brains and smaller bodies of kids as young as third grade.

I wonder how these parents would feel if they were at an amusement park and their child was offered an unproven safety device to wear on a roller coaster. They would be assured that other kids said the device felt good when they used it, but there was no scientific research that stated the device definitely worked or whether it caused any harm. Would parents agree to try an unproven safety device to see if it helped? And what about using their child as a test case? I believe it is rather frowned on to experiment with children as subjects.

In 2009, I bought my 6th grade son who had suffered two concussions a $250 “concussion proof” helmet for lacrosse to “protect him against concussions” as the sales clerk promised this new helmet would do. He lasted twenty minutes in a practice before illegal hit sent him backwards and he hit his head on the ground for his third concussion. I sent my son back into a contact sport thinking he was protected. Based on the marketing language on the box and the sales clerk, I made a decision to let my son play. Marketing is not the same as scientific research.

I believe that parents and children using the Guardian Cap should be notified by their schools in writing and sign-off they understand the limitations and liabilities surrounding this product. 

From my experience, these schools have staff who promote and believe in concussion education, and I believe the staff ordered these caps in an effort to help, not hurt kids. But have these caps been oversold to coaches and parents as “concussion caps” as the article states? And there is also concern from some ATs and experts in the concussion field that children will be less likely to report concussion symptoms because they believe they are protected or believe it would be wimpy to report if they have on something meant to reduce concussions. Will parents will be less likely to take their children to doctors if they believe this covering can protect their child’s brain? What about possible neck and spine injuries as helmets with the caps collide? The answers are unknown. It will remain to be seen whether this product helps, hurts or has no impact in this informal experiment with these athletes, some of whom are only 8 years old.

Katherine Price Snedaker, MSW

Kathrine provides some great opinion and good “detective” work on this product, as she does with just about everything she puts her mind to, and I value her perspective.  Her concerns and thought process in the concluding paragraphs are exactly some of the issues I struggle with.  Not only for this product but others a kin to it.

==========

So with that I decided to take Katherine’s advice and see what the experts were saying, so I followed the link and went to the website and tracked down the ONE expert statement.  What I found was a rambling, complex, disorganized post that basically used huge words and formulas to become a white paper for the promotion of this product.  This post was also written in 2010, two years before the product went to market and this piece is based on only a paper provided to them.  To top it off, there was not an author of this post, no name no one backing the information provided; as though it was a paid for content by an advertiser or worse, it was made by someone who had the vested interest of the company and product.

The experts I know and trust have all felt the same way I have regarding supplemental exterior helmet protection.  It makes sense that padding more would be helpful but when one does that it changes the dynamics of the Physics.

==========

In conclusion, this product may in theory be something that could reduce the liner impacts, especially the low-speed variety.  Heck I will even give the benefit of the doubt on the surface of the product – when new – that it may provide less friction.  But, now it is possibly producing more angular/rotational forces with the deflection; you know those pesky forces that move the brain inside the skull causing the shearing and acceleration/deceleration.  And if the coefficient of friction is increased, then you have issues with the neck in collisions (can you see the confusion and issues?).

I value the effort of this company and other innovators looking for ways to protect those that play sports.  These companies need to be mindful of the other end of the spectrum and what perception can lead to – ask the mouth guard companies about this.

The real question that needs to be answered here is this; does this product provide further and needed protection for my son/daughter/players at the cost?  And my answer to that question is simply, no, at this time.

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8 Responses to “What Are the Experts Saying About Guardian Caps”

  1. jshu76 September 13, 2013 at 11:37 #

    Fink is the man. He knows his concussion stuff!

  2. Mike Oliver September 13, 2013 at 13:50 #

    Dustin,

    You have done an excellent job identifying and clarifying the issues associated with helmets and helmet add-on products. As with most national and international equipment safety standards, the NOCSAE helmet standards are design neutral. That simply means that the standards define performance and function, and leave the decision as to how to achieve those ends to engineers and other experts most familiar with material design. a typical football helmet involves very complicated interactions between the rigid exterior shell and the interior energy absorbing material, which relationship includes how much the shell flexes on impact, where and to what extent those flexing forces are transmitted to the padding underneath, and how the flexing of the shell itself acts as an energy absorbent component to the entire system. Because even minor changes to any of those components can result in measurable performance changes (good or bad) in the system, NOCSAE standards mandate that such changes to a model require a separate and independent set of certification data when the manufacturer makes even minor changes in those components. if a manufacturer had chosen to incorporate an external similar to the Guardian Cap into any of its models, it would have been required under our standards to develop and establish compliance with the standards for that new model, and would have been required to give that model a different name to distinguish it from others. This is true even if the change or addition was an improvement to the helmet performance. That new testing data could encompass over 6000 separate impacts across 200 to 225 sample helmets, depending upon the total quantity of that helmet model being manufactured.

    I did recently received a statement from Riddell indicating that “Each helmet and face mask model is certified by the manufacturer to meet NOCSAE performance standards. The manufacturer certification is void if the helmet or face mask is modified in any way. Riddell recommends against the use of any third party aftermarket accessories that alter the fit, form or function of the helmet or face mask as such modifications void the NOCSAE certification and render the helmet or face mask illegal for most organized play.

    • Sports CAPP (@SportsCAPP) September 13, 2013 at 15:49 #

      Dear Mike,

      Thank you for your comments on the post that Dustin and I wrote. I was a fellow presenter with you at the Institute of Medicine in DC, for Committee on Sports-Related Concussions in Youth in Feb, 2013, where I heard you speak on the NOCSEA helmet standards. It was very informative presentation and your presentation has helped guide me as I have been reviewing the “research’ of various helmet 3rd party add-ons. Your slide that really has been my guide is the following:

      “Any effective and reliable concussion performance standard for

      helmets must be feasible:

      • Be based on consensus science

      • Repeatable at different testing sites

      • Not increase risk of other injury

      • Result in a measurable reduction of risk”

      Source: https://docs.google.com/viewer?url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.iom.edu%2F~%2Fmedia%2FFiles%2FActivity%2520Files%2FChildren%2FSports-Related-Concussion%2F10%2520Oliver.pdf

      Taking all these factors into account, there are very few add-on products that can even come to the table with “research.” I do hope with all my heart that we are able to find an solution to the issue of sports brain injuries, but I refuse to buy into a half-baked/half-researched product just because it feels good. Please just show me it works.

      Katherine

  3. Dave Halstead September 13, 2013 at 15:04 #

    Dustin, your closing comment is exactly correct. In fact there is growing evidence that devices like the one featured in this post might be more harmful than helpful. Your analogy with the egg in the bubble wrap is a good one, We have run several test conditions and can prove the linear inputs, while a part of the overall issue, are not the factor that determines the maximum shear strain/tissue distortion that in fact is what causes the neurocognitive cascade we call concussion.

  4. Glenn Beckmann September 14, 2013 at 08:31 #

    Just to clarify, it is the position of Schutt Sports that any 3rd party product added to or used in conjunction with one of our helmets may void the helmet warranty but will void the NOCSAE certification of the helmet, thus making it illegal to use in most games and/or practices that are sanctioned by an organizing body.

    A person or team that buys a helmet from us can obviously do whatever they want to it. It is, afterall, their helmet at that point. But we strongly recommend against using any 3rd party product that alters the fit, form or function of the helmet because of the concerns stated above, as well as the exposure to that person or team to the liability stream of that helmet.

    It’s well and good and that these 3rd party product makers are willing to pick up the helmet warranty (a small cost) and now some are claiming they’ll pick up the liability, as well (a MUCH larger cost). Helmet makers are required to show proof of liability insurance (to the tune of eight figures) to their customers. Is this proof available from 3rd party product makers?

    We value our NOCSAE license to re-certify helmets and take the responsibilities inherent in that license very seriously. Certifying helmets that do not meet their standards, which mandates the helmet be in its original, tested configuration, would potentially put our license in danger.

    The pathway to certification for these 3rd party product makers is very clear. We’re open and eager to work with these innovative companies but we’re not willing to carry the weight for their research. We know it’s an expensive process, as it’s one we actively participate in, as do all helmet makers.

    • pierre-claude baptiste February 27, 2014 at 12:48 #

      ”The real question that needs to be answered here is this; does this product provide further and needed protection for my son/daughter/players at the cost? And my answer to that question is simply, no, at this time.”

      It is, as you said, your answer. Personnally I think that a device who can give more protection against a hit to the head is better than nothing.
      This conpany does not say that it can reduce concussion, they say it reduces the velocity of the hit.

      • Dustin Fink February 27, 2014 at 12:55 #

        And by doing that it falsely protects the athlete; as the “pain” is perhaps decreased the riskier behavior increases. This product and those like it only muddy the water…

  5. pierre-claude baptiste March 21, 2014 at 14:25 #

    Dustin you’re saying things that does not exist just to make your point. It is not a question of pain, not at all.
    Pain has nothing to do with concussion. More than that, most of the concussions are painless.

    Guardian say that their device can reduce the velocity of a hit to the head up to 33%. It is clear on their website. That’s it and that’s all.
    To me it’s enough to have my children wear one.

    A concussion is the result of an accident. You cannot predict when, where or how it will occur. You cannot predict the importance of it. The kid has to know what are the concussion’s effects. This is the coach’s job to tell the players the importance of it and how to know if they had one..

    NO DEVICE OR HELMET CAN REDUCE THE RISK OF A CONCUSSION.

    The best thing to protect your children from a concussion is to have his neck muscles get stronger. The other way to do it is to add more protection in case of a direct hit to the head. You want to diminish the velocity of the hit. This is what the Guardian Cap does.
    Nothing less, nothing more

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