Football Helmets Help, but Need Improvement, Say Experts

Football Helmets Do Not Help Enough

According to a report by the Florida Center for Headache and Sports Neurology and the Florida State University College of Medicine, football helmets do not prevent concussions or serious injuries. The spike of serious head injury reports in recent years led the National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA) and National Football League (NFL) authorities to implement stiff penalties for players that hit an opponent’s helmet with their own. Such rules and improvements help, but experts believe more is needed.

The report comes on the heels of a recent $750 million class action lawsuit by former professional football players against the NFL. They charge that they received serious head injuries during their playing careers while using standard league protection equipment. According to a report released by Centers for Disease Control (CDC), football is the number one team sport for causing concussions and serious head injury. Almost 30 percent of such sports related injuries come from football. Soccer is second with 16 percent; basketball reported 15 percent of these.

Sports neurologist and director of the Florida Center for Headache and Sports Neurology, Dr. Frank Conidi, stated that football helmets provide very good protection against linear impacts, which lead to head bruising and skull fracture. However, he stated that they offer very little protection against rotational forces. The latter are a dangerous source of brain injury.  This means while football helmets do help, they need improvement, according to the experts.According to Conidi, young football players, especially preteen and teenage players, are especially susceptible to these types of injuries.

Dr. John Lloyd, author of a 2013 report, explains that when the head comes to a sudden stop while rotating the brain material is twisting inside the head. He explains that the result can be a concussion and brain injury, which can itself be life threatening. According to experts, 12 percent of football related deaths are caused by head or neck injuries suffered after receiving a concussion.

Stefan Duma, a professor at Virginia Tech-Wake Forest University states that though some helmets will reduce risk more than others, no helmet can eliminate head injury risk entirely. Of the helmets that were tested, the Adams a2000 had the best protection against concussion. Meanwhile, the Schutt Air Advantage provided the least amount of protection against concussion. The Riddell 360 had the best test results regarding closed head injuries. According to the report, the most effective helmet reduced the of injury from the side of the head by only 30 percent. Meanwhile, the same helmets reduced injury from head-on impact by 70 percent.

Researchers conducting injury-related experiments implemented a modified testing system, repeating and adjusting the test over 300 times. A crash test dummy head and neck were used to simulate impact. Lloyd, the head injury expert, hinted that it might help improve football helmets by replacing current material with a softer one, so as to help disperse trauma from impact. However, he says that unfortunately this would require removing the facemask from the helmet. A new facemask material is needed first, as a softer helmet would not hold the currently hard facemask in place.

Over 50 years ago, football players wore softer helmets without facemasks. The apparent improvements to helmets since then helped prevent eye and facial injuries. However, experts say there is a need to still look for greater safety measures.

By Ian Erickson


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