As the countdown to the Super Bowl begins, new research into the impact that the type of football helmet worn by players can have an impact on the risk of concussion is getting some attention. The study coming out of the Virginia Tech-Wake Forest University School of Biomedical Engineering and Sciences suggests that modern helmets like those to be worn in today’s match-up between the Seattle Seahawks and the Denver Broncos, can cut the risk by as much as half when compared to older helmet models.
The study involved the examination of over a million hits in the NCAA Division I games of eight teams played over a period of six seasons between 2005 and 2010. A total of 1,833 players were studied. Of the collisions observed, 64 resulted in a player being diagnosed with a concussion. Study participants wore one of two types of helmets, both manufactured by Riddell. One was a slightly older version of the skull protecting covering, the now discontinued VSR4, and the other was a more advanced modern head covering known as the Revolution.The goal of the study was not to compare these two specific helmets, per se, but rather to evaluate the impact that the type of helmet has on the risk of garnering a concussion.
With the help of head sensors intended to measure head acceleration embedded in the helmets, researchers concluded that players wearing the more modern advanced helmets were 54 percent less likely to suffer a concussion. The risk for these players was about four concussions per 100,000 impacts as opposed to eight concussions per 100,000 impacts among those wearing the older model helmets. Overall, the players studied had about a 3% risk of suffering a concussion from any given impact.
Prior studies have indicated that helmet design might be a factor in concussion risk, making suggestions that additional padding or design alterations could make a difference. This is the first study, however, to control for the number of hits per helmet, allowing for a more direct comparison. In previous studies there may have been players who rarely suffered hits being compared to those who suffered many hits during a game.
Researchers believe that it is possible that the Revolution helmet protects better against the risk of concussion because its design better distributes the energy transfer that occurs upon impact. They also believe that additional research is needed to assist in the development of helmets that may reduce the risk of concussion even further.
Aside from changes in helmet design, the researchers recommend the implementation of other methods of risk reduction as well. They suggest that changing rules and educating players about better techniques may be helpful, as these methods could decrease the overall occurrence of concussion-inducing head impacts. The researchers caution, though, that football will always be a game with the risk of head impacts and that no amount of rule-changing or technique altering is likely to eliminate the risk entirely. Their study, they say, offers hope that adjustments in helmet design can continue to have a positive impact on the risk of concussion long-term.
By Michele Wessel