A new study published in the Journal of Neurosurgery indicates that football helmets can be specially designed to reduce the risk of concussion, while sustaining head impact during matches. The study assessed the influence of two models of helmet, manufactured by Riddell – an American sports equipment maker, renowned for producing a line of helmets that are becoming increasingly popular among NFL players. However, the latest research looked into the influence of Riddell helmets on the rate of concussion in a variety of collegiate football teams.
Teams from Brown University, Dartmouth College, Indiana University, University of Illinois, University of Minnesota, University of North Carolina, University of Oklahoma and Virginia Tech were incorporated into a comprehensive study, conducted between 2005 and 2010. The research study explored the head impact data collated from the eight investigated football teams. During the study period, over 1800 players were provided with helmets, fitted with sensor devices, designed to help the research team understand the biomechanics of head impacts. Overall, over one million impacts were recorded and interpreted – including collisions that resulted in 64 diagnosed concussions. The study provided information regarding the protection that two types of football helmet offered to players – the Riddell VSR4 and Riddell Revolution helmets.
The authors report there was a 54 percent reduction in the concussion risk for players sporting the Riddell Revolution, relative to those players that were outfitted with VSR4 helmets. Study lead, and assistant professor at Virginia Tech’s School of Biomedical Engineering and Sciences, Steve Rowson indicates that their study represents the first of its kind, before moving on to describe the objective nature of their methodology:
“This is the first study to control for the number of times players hit their heads when comparing helmet types… No previous study has been able to account for this variable. Controlling for head impacts allows you to compare apples to apples. For example, you’re not comparing a player in one helmet who rarely gets hit to a player in another helmet type who frequently gets hit.”
When a head impact was detected, the head sensors were employed to measure the acceleration of the wearer’s head. Ultimately, players that wore the revolution helmets experienced lower head accelerations from individual impact events than their VSR4-wearing counterparts. According to the researchers, the Revolution helmets were far superior in modulating energy transfer from collisions to the players’ heads; in turn, this culminated in a reduction in head accelerations for players that used Revolution helmets.
Quarterbacks were found to experience the highest recorded head accelerations. The next highest accelerations were witnessed in running backs, followed by – in order of decreasing head accelerations – wide receivers, defensive backs, linebackers and linemen.
In summarizing the team’s findings, Rowson explains that the helmets most capable of effectively lowering head acceleration were the best options for mitigating concussion risk. However, no helmet is able to eliminate all danger of concussions. Stefan Duma, head of Virginia Tech’s School of Biomedical Engineering and Sciences, suggests a two-fold strategy for reducing concussion risk; this involves changing league rules and “… teaching players better techniques.” She also suggests, regardless of future attempts to enact safety conscious rules, players will inevitably experience head impacts. As a result, Duma stresses the importance of introducing improvements to helmet design to protect football players.
By James Fenner