The alarming rate of concussions among football player of all ages. How do we reduce the incidence and severity of head injuries for even those players who have sustained repetitive sub-concussive hits?
A fundamentally different approach to football helmet construction utilizing a flexible force-absorbing and force-dispersing shell.
Making Our Case for Change with Examples
…helmets used in youth football have historically been scaled-down “little adult” versions of varsity helmets. Therefore, scaling down varsity football helmets fails to consider youth players’ impact conditions, developing spinal musculature, maturing brain, and head-neck disparity. And thus, today’s youth helmets may have energy-absorbing features that are not optimized for these lower dose impacts.
Moreover, strategies, such as the use of semisoft energy-absorbing shell, viscoelastic padding…may have provided added protection via reduced energy transmission to the brain.
It’s all about proper energy absorption. From a physics standpoint, Sicking said the rigid outer shell of a helmet doesn’t work well for absorbing the energy between two objects. The helmet itself needs to absorb more energy…The shell needs to be made out of a different material…What you would like to have is a helmet that flexes a little more and restores itself more slowly… The more time it takes the shell to restore its shape, the safer it becomes…Anything you can do to extend the duration of the impact motion is a win. It’s a redesign of the outer shell of the helmets that will make the biggest difference.
Today’s helmets do a marvelous job of protecting against skull fracture. That’s something we almost never see anymore in our practice. And, helmets reduce the most serious inter-cranial bleeding — they’ve reduced that dramatically, by almost 80 percent. But they don’t do very much for protecting against concussion. That’s because the most injurious acceleration the brain can get is a rotational one, where the head is spun violently. The helmets don’t do very much at all about attenuating those forces. I’m totally in favor of better helmets, but unfortunately I don’t believe that helmets are the solution in terms of concussion.
The solution, as suggested by former Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman: Go old school. Until the NFL made the plastic football helmet legal in 1949, players’ headgear was made of leather — soft, relatively cushy leather, which protected, well, no one. Because brain injuries are internal, and often take years to manifest, football players usually give little thought to leading with their noggins. Were leather helmets to be implemented, however, nobody would do such a thing. Well, maybe they’d try for a game or two. Then, heads would turn bloody. Skulls would crack. Ears would bleed. And that would be that.
The helmet has evolved so that it is heavy and protective against major injuries, and this has led to players using their heads as battering rams, often with no hesitation. When this results in a concussion, we are, at least from the vantage point of diagnosing the problem, almost fortunate – we know that the brain has been jostled and can then tend to it. But there are many other times when there may not be a concussion suspected, and the sum of these “subconcussive” blows may cause serious harm
…this study is the first to report on head impact exposure in youth football. Valuable insight to the head impact exposure in youth football has been presented. While youth football players impact their heads less frequently than high school and college players, and have impact distributions more heavily weighted toward low magnitude impacts; high magnitude impacts still occur. Interestingly, the majority of these high magnitude impacts occur during practice. Restructuring youth football practices may be an effective method of reducing the head impact exposure in youth football. These data are the basis of educated decisions about future changes to youth football and have applications toward determining guidelines for youth-specific helmet design.
The nation’s largest youth football league, Pop Warner, is facing a class-action lawsuit over concussions
The case filed Thursday accuses Pop Warner of failing to monitor games, practices, rules, equipment and medical care “to minimize the long-term risks associated with brain injuries including repetitive sub-concussive hits”; failing to accurately diagnose brain injuries; and failing to approve the best equipment available. Pop Warner and the other defendants “acted with callous indifference” and players who participated in Pop Warner dating back nearly two decades are entitled to an unspecified amount of damages, according to the complaint.
The concussion issues in sports have been a huge topic for years, especially in the NFL. A new study published by FAIR Health suggests that the issues have continued to become a huge concern across a range of youth sports in the United States for boys and girls.
FAIR Health’s study concluded that concussion diagnoses for people under the age of 22 rose 500% from 2010 to ‘14. FAIR Health is a not-for-profit whose “mission is to bring transparency to healthcare costs and health insurance information.” This study, the company said in a release, was conducted “based on healthcare insurance claims 2007–15, ages 0–22 years.”
Now the National Collegiate Athletic Association is helping bankroll a project to gather the information. In partnership with U.S. Department of Defense, it has launched a three-year, $30 million project to track the effects of concussion using data from as many as 37,000 student athletes.
The problem is ultimately one of physics. All helmets work under the same principle. The force striking one’s head–acceleration mixed with mass–can’t actually be prevented. Physics says that energy has to go somewhere, right? What good helmets do is lengthen the duration of the impact itself (in the hundredths of a second range), reverberating energy through various structures and materials, to smooth a hit from a sharp, high-g strike to a relatively smooth curve of deceleration. Consider landing on a concrete floor or a pile of pillows. Which impact takes longer and which impact hurts more?
The authors concluded that incurring repeated head impacts in football between the ages of 10 and 12, a critical and sensitive window for brain development, may increase the risk of later-life cognitive impairment. During those early years, the brain is rapidly building connections between neurons.
“We have findings from former NFL players, so it can’t be generalizable to the rest of the football-playing public,” Stern said. “But it does suggest something that I think makes logical sense. The logic is you shouldn’t hurt your brain over and over and over again as a child.”
The top medical official for Pop Warner, the nation’s largest and oldest youth football organization, dismissed the study as “flawed.” Dr. Julian Bailes, chairman of its medical advisory committee and co-director of the Northshore Neurological Institute in Evanston, Illinois, told “Outside the Lines” that the sample is too small to draw any conclusions from, and that the results of NFL players cannot be compared to that of athletes who never made it to that level.
“We need to take the hard-shell helmets off. We could replace them with throwback leather helmets, which everyone understands provide limited protection. But we need to eliminate the idea that I’m in a cage, you’re in a cage, and we can go at each other because we’re indestructible.”
“Removing plastic helmets would change how the game is played. But I don’t buy that it would take the toughness out of football. Rugby players don’t wear helmets, and having played with the English club Blackheath as part of my Travel Channel show, I can vouch that rugby is a tough and bloody sport,” Jones continues. “Football is a beautiful game. It’s America’s game. By tossing hard-shell helmets, we can protect players while maintaining the sport’s integrity.”
The high school football season has kicked off across Minnesota and players’ safety is a big concern. The Minnesota Health Department estimates high school football players suffered more than 1,300 concussions last year. There is no doubt that good equipment can help keep football players safe, but can the right helmet actually bring the number of concussions down?
There is a fight – on and off the field – about that issue and whether helmets can reduce the risk or even prevent concussions, an injury that can be life-changing at all levels of play.<
A study to be presented at a meeting of the American Academy of Neurology attempts to do exactly that, comparing 10 of the most widely used football helmets in drop tests designed to measure the kinds of forces that are most likely to result in concussion.
The latest research finds that football helmets, which have been designed largely to prevent skull fractures and brain contusions, aren’t all that effective against concussion, which happens when the brain bounces and twists around inside the skull.
Football helmets are supposed to be a source of protection, but they may do little to ward off the effects of a hit to the side of the head that can cause traumatic brain injuries such as concussions.
A new study shows that blows that cause rotational force aren’t warded off much by the sports equipment. Rotational injury occurs when the head rotates on the neck because of the impact, causing the brain to rotate.
“Alarmingly, those [helmets] 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.”
Ergonomic design examines how well products, workspaces, and environments suit the people who use them. A usable design makes intuitive sense, and is physically compatible with the human body to promote productivity, safety and comport. This paper outlines the ergonomic design issues with respect to the design of helmets using bio-modeling. In this design approach, bio-modeling of a skull and a helmet modeling are interfaced with a reverse engineering method to develop a cost-effective way for the design of helmets with ergonomic fit to promote safety.
The aims of this study were to quantify the sensitivity of various biomechanical measures (linear acceleration, rotational acceleration, impact duration, and impact location) of head impact to the clinical diagnosis of concussion in United States football players and to develop a novel measure of head impact severity combining these measures into a single score that better predicts the incidence of concussion.
Steve James’s troubling new documentary, “Head Games,” reckons some of the terrible costs of modern American sports culture. Focusing on football, hockey and women’s soccer, the film looks at the widespread incidence of head injuries that threaten the well-being of competitors at every level, from youth leagues to the pros. Recent neurological research suggests that even mild and infrequent concussions can have terrible long-term consequences. Repeated impact, of the kind that is routine in football, especially, can lead to dementia and severe psychological disorders.
Although less frequent, youth football can produce high head accelerations in the range of concussion causing impacts measured in adults. In order to minimize these most severe head impacts, youth football practices should be modified to eliminate high impact drills that do not replicate the game situations.
Frequency, magnitude, and distribution of head impacts in Pop Warner football: the cumulative burden
A growing body of research suggests that subconcussive head impacts or repetitive mild Traumatic Brain Injury (mTBI) can have cumulative and deleterious effects. Several studies have investigated head impacts in football at the professional, collegiate, and high school levels, in an attempt to elucidate the biomechanics of head impacts among football players. Youth football players, generally from 7 to 14 years of age, constitute 70% of all football players, yet burden of, and susceptibility to, head injury in this population is not well known.
High school football players suffer three times as many catastrophic injuries as college players — meaning deaths, permanent disability injuries, neck fractures and serious head injuries, among other conditions, according to a 2007 study in the American Journal of Sports Medicine.
In an interview with the Dallas Morning News, former Dallas Cowboys running back Tony Dorsett said of his Chronic Traumatic Ecephalopathy (CTE), “I signed up for this when, I guess, I started playing football so many years ago. But, obviously, not knowing that the end was going to be like this. But I love the game. The game was good to me. It’s just unfortunate that I’m going through what I’m going through. I’m in the fight, man. I’m not just laying around letting this overtake me. I’m fighting. I’m in the battle. I’m hoping we can reverse this thing somehow.”
I feel that concussions can be “prevented” in practice with contact limits and proper technique during drills. The other two incidents, thus far, I deemed preventable occurred in practices and were concussions. One player was hit by a teammate during a non-contact soccer drill as a “joke” and the other did not use good judgement and ran into a pile and was rocked.
There is general agreement among the medical community that concussion incidence can be reduced through rule changes in play, changes in concussion protocol and procedures, and teaching proper hitting and tackling techniques. However, there remains debate as to whether the design of helmets can also help reduce the incidence of concussions.