Football Helmets Offer Inadequate Protection

A new study shows that current football helmets don't offer much protection against hits to the side of the head, which can lead to fatal concussions and brain swelling.

Ten helmets tested by researchers reduced the likelihood of traumatic brain injury by an average of 20 percent compared with no helmet in a simulation using crash test dummies. The most effective helmet reduced the risk by only 30 percent, according to the researcher's data.

Tests showed that the helmets didn't offer adequate protection from hits to the side of the head, which can lead to fatal concussions and brain swelling. A blow to the side of the head causes the neck to rotate, which can cause the brain to rotate.  

"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," study co-author Dr. Frank Conidi, director of the Florida Center for Headache and Sports Neurology a, said in a press release.  

Researchers tested football helmets with a version of the standard drop test system. That's the method the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment uses to test helmet safety and impact effect. To simulate an actual person, a crash test dummy with a neck wore the helmets. 

Sensors were also placed in the dummy's head so the scientists could see the linear and rotational impact. Linear impacts often lead to brain bruising and skull fracture.

The dummies were then subjected to a 12 mile-per-hour impact while wearing 10 popular helmets.

The helmets did much better when protecting against linear impacts offering a reduced risk of skull fractures by 60 to 70 percent compared to not wearing a helmet. They also lowered the risk of brain bruising by 70 to 80 percent. However, the helmets reduced the risk of traumatic brain injury by only 20 percent compared to not wearing a helmet.

The helmets tested were:

  • Adams a2000
  • Rawlings Quantum
  • Riddell 360
  • Riddell Revolution
  • Riddell Revolution Speed
  • Riddell VSR4
  • Schutt Air Advantage
  • Schutt DNA Pro+
  • Xenith X1
  • Xenith X2

The Adams a2000 was shown to be the best protection against concussion, while the Schutt Air Advantage did the worst. However, the Adams a2000 was the worst against closed head injury -- when the skull and outer membrane of the brain remain whole after the incident -- while the Riddell 360 did the best.

Professional, college and high school management and athletes are much more aware of the medical dangers that repeated head trauma and concussions can trigger. The NFL and many colleges and high schools have implemented stricter rules regarding safety issues to help protect the athletes. Researchers want parents and players to know that, while helmets are certainly helpful to a certain degree, no one should develop a false sense of security that they offer adequate protection against serious head trauma.

Sources: Michelle Castillo,

Elizabeth Lopatto,

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