Football helmets may not be able to stop concussions from happening due to the cause of football concussions being caused by a sudden rotation of the skull and brain. Research at Stanford University conducted by David Camarillo, an Assistant Professor of Bioengineering, has produced results which indicate that current helmet testing techniques and equipment are not able to fully evaluate the factors which cause concussions. Football helmets have all but eliminated skull fractures caused by blunt force impact, but the rotational forces effecting acceleration and deceleration of the brain remain the cause of concussion. Camarillo’s team has looked at oscillation or shaking back and forth experienced by the brain in events which cause concussion, Stanford’s own football team wears accelerometers built into their mouthpieces which show head oscillations in the 20Hz range. That frequency is considered “brain rattling” and is the point at which real issues to the brain begins to occur. Camarillo’s group is testing helmets using a slingshot-like device to propel an impactor into a stationary head testing impact at different velocities and accelerations. They are also using crash-dummy necks to test in situations which more closely relate to how the human neck flexes when the head is impacted.
The issue remains in helmet design: can helmets be designed to prevent or lessen concussions? How much this can ultimately prevent concussions is unknown. Football is a sport which, by nature of the play, will create events which cause concussion and, more for some players over the course of time with multiple concussions. We know that multiple concussions can lead to changes in the brain like CTE or Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy. Preventing the life-long effects of concussive injuries is important. We may improve helmet design, improve awareness of coaches, trainers and players to the signs of concussions but we have a long road ahead of us to eliminate concussions from football.