NFL's New 'Guardian Caps' to Prevent Head Injuries: The Takeaways for the Athlete in All of Us


The National Football League (NFL) recently announced  that players will be permitted to wear Guardian Caps during regular-season games this year, part of an ongoing effort by the league to increase player safety and prevent head injuries.

Guardian Caps are soft-shell covers worn over the helmets to provide extra cushioning and enhanced safety, especially for helmet-to-helmet contact. They’ve already been used during pre-season games and all practice sessions by NFL teams since 2022.  And they are extensively used by college and high school football teams.

There is no doubt that the wider visibility of Guardian Caps when the NFL seasons gets underway will serve as a stark reminder to athletes at all levels and all ages about the importance of protective head gear during contact sports.

The NFL said that if one player is wearing the Guardian Cap at the time of a helmet hit, the cap will absorb 11 to 12 percent of the force. If both players are wearing the cap and have a helmet-to-helmet hit, the force of the impact is reduced by about 20 percent, the league states.

”Allowing players to wear the Guardian Cap during games is a major step in the right direction for player safety,” explains Richard Morgan, D.O., a nonsurgical spine care physician at Baptist Health Miami Neuroscience Institute, specializing in physical medicine and rehabilitation. “A collegiate or professional player can sustain more than 1,000 head impacts in a single season, accounting for practice and game participation.”

Richard Morgan, D.O., 


 Baptist Health Miami

Neuroscience Institute.

Dr. Morgan has hands-on experience when it comes to potential injuries in full-contact sports. He  grew up playing football in the Pop Warner league at Suniland Park and Division 1 college ball. “My experience over the years opened my eyes to a lot of different sports-related injuries, including concussions, spinal cord injury and musculoskeletal injuries,” he says. He enjoys kayaking and hiking and still likes to play football.

Short-term and long-term symptoms from head impacts were first described in the 1920s as  boxers seemed “punch drunk”  -- and research has since come a long way to characterize the microscopic changes that occur in the brain resulting from repetitive head injuries, explains Dr. Morgan.

“The Guardian Cap may decrease the risk of concussion and burden of each head impact without significantly interfering with the game,” he said. “There's substantial evidence indicating that repetitive head impacts can lead to long term cognitive, behavioral, and mood symptoms.”

There have been other engineering innovations to protect athletes. As an example, Dr. Morgan points out: “Formula One auto racing has been able to decrease head and neck injuries by driving the continued evolution of protective equipment such as the HANS (‘head and neck support’) restraining device and helmet. The Guarding Cap may be the start of a similar evolution of equipment in football aimed at preventing immediate and long-term brain injury.”

The expansion of the use of Guardian Caps in the NFL offers a big takeaway for parents of young athletes. Such additional protective headwear will likely catch on throughout youth leagues, said Dr. Morgan.

“Many athletes are introduced to football and other contact sports from a young age,” he said. “By limiting the amount of exposure to high velocity and forceful head impacts, we may be able to prevent resultant long term cognitive symptoms.”

Each head impact causes the brain to collide against certain parts of the surrounding bony skull, said Dr. Morgan. This results in tiny injuries in regions of the brain that impact the skull, which may not even be evident or cause symptoms at the time of the impact.

“As with a shoulder or knee injury, these tiny sequential injuries may cause a build-up of ‘scar tissue’ and accelerate degeneration,” he explains. “Depending on where this specifically occurs in the brain, it may amount to more profound cognitive, behavioral or mood changes long term.”