As concussion awareness has increased there has been a noticeable increase in athletes wearing helmets. Skiers, snowboarders, and cyclists have all seen a rise in helmet usage, even outside of competition. However, a new study confirms what several tests before it have already shown: modern helmets are not very good at preventing concussions.
There are several factors of an impact which can cause brain injuries. Impact speed, rotational force, and location of the impact all carry weight in determining the risk of brain injury. Unfortunately, the helmets currently available to consumers aren’t capable of mitigating several of these factors.
“Protection against concussion and complications of brain injury is especially important for young players, including elementary and middle school, high school and college athletes, whose still-developing brains are more susceptible to the lasting effects of trauma,” said study co-author Frank Conidi MD, DO, MS. Conidi is the vice chair of the Sports Neurology Section of the American Academy of Neurology.
Tech Times reports the study used a modified version of the standard test used by the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment. The test is regularly used to test the viability and safety of sports equipment, and the researchers used a crash test dummy head and neck assembly as a stand in for human test subjects. Impacts to the head were measured by sensors placed on the dummy.
“The scientists conducted 330 tests to measure how well 10 popular football helmet designs protected against traumatic brain injury, including: Adams a2000, Rawlings Quantum, Riddell 360, Riddell Revolution, Riddell Revolution Speed, Riddell VSR4, Schutt Air Advantage, Schutt DNA Pro+, Xenith X1 and Xenith X2,” said the AAN in a press release.
When the results were in, the helmets only reduced the risk of brain injury by an average 20 percent, significantly lower than previously thought. Interestingly, the helmet which offered the most concussion protection also provided the least amount of protection from closed head injuries.
But don’t write off helmets yet. On tests of protection from linear forces the helmets did very well. The study says helmets reduced the risk of brain tissue bruising by up to 80 percent, and the helmets were able to reduce the risk of skull fractures by 60 to 70 percent.
“Alarmingly, those that offered the least protection are among the most popular on the field,” said Conidi. “Biomechanics researchers have long understood that rotational forces, not linear forces, are responsible for serious brain damage including concussion, brain injury complications and brain bleeds. Yet generations of football and other sports participants have been under the assumption that their brains are protected by their investment in headwear protection.”