By Doug Hanson
The hard hitting action on a football field creates a high risk environment for concussions, but one new study shows how better helmet designs might provide better protection.
Researchers placed special sensors in the helmets of college football players over five seasons to collect data on how well two helmet designs protected players during hard impacts on the field.
This study showed that at least one new helmet design provided substantially better protection from head injury than an older design from the same company.
These researchers noted that helmet design is just one way to protect football players from head injury. Changing rules and techniques might also help, they suggested.
This study was led by Steven Rowson, PhD, and Stefan M. Duma, PhD, School of Biomedical Engineering & Sciences, Virginia Tech – Wake Forest University, Blacksburg VA.
The researchers looked at head impact data from eight college football teams, including Virginia Tech, University of North Carolina, University of Oklahoma, Dartmouth College, Brown University, University of Minnesota, Indiana University and University of Illinois.
The data used in the study was collected from 2005 to 2010 and included 1,833 players who had sensors inside either a Riddell VSR4 or Riddell Revolution helmet to measure the impact from over one million head contact incidents.
A total of 64 concussions related to head impacts on the football field were diagnosed by a certified athletic trainer or team physician over this period.
The data showed 27 concussions resulting from 322,725 head impacts among players wearing the VSR4 helmet, putting the risk of concussion at 8.37 per 100,000 head impacts.
The study showed that of 958,710 head impacts involving players equipped with Revolution helmets, only 37 concussions were diagnosed, resulting in a risk of 3.86 concussions per 100,000 head impacts. That's a 53.9 percent lower risk than players equipped with the VSR4 helmet.
The authors of this study stressed that no helmet will ever be able to prevent all concussions.
"While some helmets will reduce risk more than others, no helmet can eliminate risk," said Dr. Duma.
Better helmet design is just one of many strategies that play a role in reducing concussions in football.
"The most effective strategies are altering league rules and teaching players better techniques. These strategies focus on reducing the number of head impacts that players experience," Dr. Duma added. "However, head impacts in football will always occur, even with the best rules and technique. This is where improving helmet design to best reduce concussion risk becomes critical. Our data clearly demonstrate that this is possible."
The researchers noted that this study only looked at diagnosed concussions and did not account for the much greater actual concussion rate, which may be two to 10 times greater.
This study was published January 31 in the Journal of Neurosurgery.
This study was financed by the National Institute of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Joseph J. Crisco, Richard M. Greenwald, Jeffrey J. Chu, Jonathan G. Beckwith, and Simbex have a financial interest in the instruments (HIT System, Sideline Response System [Riddell]) that were used to collect the biomechanical data reported in this study.