Modern Football Helmets Don't Adequately Prevent Concussions: Study
February 18, 2014

Modern Football Helmets Don’t Adequately Prevent Concussions: Study

Brett Smith for - Your Universe Online

Over the past few years, sports-related concussions have become quite the hot-button topic.

Recently, a group of former professional football players banded together to pursue legal action against the National Football League after many of them suffered from life-changing mental disorders they say were brought about by repeated violent blows to the head.

According to the alarming results of a new study being presented at the American Academy of Neurology's annual meeting later this year, today’s commercially available helmets are virtually indistinguishable and fairly ineffective when it comes to preventing concussions.

"All of them were terrible," Dr. Francis X. Conidi, vice chair of the AAN's Sports Neurology Section, told the Los Angeles Times.

The new study involved dropping 10 of the most widely used football helmets to determine how they buffer the kinds of forces that are most likely to result in concussion – forces that bounce and twist the brain around inside the skull.

Conidi said the helmets' poor showing during the tests underscores the idea that coaches should be teaching the safest tackling techniques and encouraging younger football players to strengthen their neck and shoulder muscles, which would help to prevent concussion-causing, head-snapping motions. Conidi added that officials at all levels of football should be enforcing rules against violent, head-first contact.

"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," he said.

The researchers learned that football helmets, on average, decreased the risk of traumatic brain injury by only 20 percent compared to not wearing a helmet. While the study team did not find a significant difference among the helmets they tested, they did single out one model – the Adams A2000 helmet – as providing the best protection against concussions. They also said the Schutt Air Advantage provided the worst protection.

"Alarmingly, those that offered the least protection are among the most popular on the field," Conidi said. "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,” he added.

The conclusions of the new study differ significantly with those reached by another team at Virginia Tech-Wake Forest University. That study said the Adams A2000 ProElite was "not recommended," as it received the lowest score of 18 helmets the team tested for protection against a combination of "linear acceleration," or straight front-to-back forces, and "rotational acceleration," the twisting of the brain inside the skull.

The Virginia Tech-Wake Forest team awarded the Schutt Air Advantage two stars in protecting against brain injury, calling the helmet "adequate."

Stefan M. Duma, who heads the Virginia Tech-Wake Forest School of Biomedical Engineering and Sciences, cautioned that the new research being presented at the AAN's conference should be considered preliminary and noted that the findings have yet to be peer-reviewed.