The National Football League has been under constant scrutiny for the way it is handling player safety after many players have shown severe side effects from concussions they sustained while wearing football helmets. Safety is also a major issue for many parents and high schools that send teenagers out into this sport. Now the American Academy of Neurology has released a study, which they say shows that football helmets are highly ineffective for preventing concussions because they over little to no rotational protection which they say is a more common cause of brain damage than linear force.
The study says that these helmets do nothing to help protect an athlete from a hit that is absorbed on the side of the head. They call this kind of a blow a rotation force, as opposed to a linear force, which would be sustained head on.
Researchers employed a standard drop test to measure the protection offered by football helmets. The drop test is approved by the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment as an appropriate test to show a helmet’s impact resistance.
In an unfortunate complication, the helmet which offered players with the best concussion prevention technology also offered them the least protection from closed head injuries. The study found that helmets offer merely a 20 percent increase in protection against traumatic brain injury for players who wear them.
Another problem facing doctors and officials is that players within the NFL and other football organizations seem to choose the wrong types of helmets for game day. Whether it is a comfort issue, style or any other reason that has not yet been determined.
Another major problem is that the kinds of helmets that most players are wearing these days are the ones that offer the least amount of protection from serious injury, according to the vice chair of the Neurology Section at the American Academy of Neurology, Frank Conidi.
The major issue at stake here is the difference between linear collisions and rotational ones. Conidi said that researchers in Biomechanics have known for a longtime now that it is not linear forces, but rotational forces that are the cause for most of the serious brain damage seen in sports and other areas of life these days. Serious brain damage can include concussion, complications and bleeds.
According to the research done by his team, they have determined that for generations of football players, and also players of other sports, have been wearing the wrong helmets because they are under the assumption that they can protect their brain by buying a certain kind of helmet.
As of now, Conidi and his team have not released a meaningful alternative to football helmets for protecting against rotational blows. One often debated alternative would to be play without helmet’s, or ones that offer less protection so that players would not be able to deliver such hard blows to opponents, although even this measure has its serious detractors.
This study should add further fuel to the ongoing debate over the protection of players who put on a football helmet. Teenagers and young adults should be especially concerned for their safety because their brains could be still growing at the time they are participating in these sports. Although a viable alternative is not expected to be on the market in the near future, the American Academy of Neuroscience seems convinced that football helmets are highly ineffective as a means to prevent concussion and brain injury.
By Nick Manai