The Super Bowl has been played. The Seattle Seahawks are the champions. The season is over. In other words, it’s a sad day in western Pennsylvania. Those of us who bleed black and gold now console ourselves with the knowledge that there are only 94 days until the NFL draft!
There’s been a lot of talk in recent years about the future of football in light of the sheer numbers of acute concussions occurring in current players and the incidence of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) seen in former players. News of retired football players struggling with deteriorating brain function as a result of repetitive head injuries has sent a chill through youth football circles. Despite changes in the way coaches teach blocking and tackling, and changes in some of the rules governing contact to the head, many parents are now guiding their boys away from football and into other, less violent sports. Will better equipment be football’s savior?
Researchers have published a study in the Journal of Neurosurgery comparing two helmets commonly used by college football players and the incidence of concussions when each were worn. Head impacts were measured with the use of helmet-mounted accelerometer arrays on the Riddell VSR4 and Riddell Revolution helmets. The Revolution model has an important advantage over the VSR4, according to Alexandria Sifferlin, in that the Revolution helmets:
…no longer have screws that are typically found in the forehead area of the helmet. That construction provides “an unparalleled amount of face mask flexion, dispersing impact energies around the helmet instead of onto the player’s head,” the company claims.
In fact, the study found:
…a 53.9% reduction in concussion risk associated with the Revolution helmet compared with the VSR4 helmet.
Linda Carroll says more studies are necessary:
Concussion experts called the study an important first step, but one that needed to be duplicated, since there is another recently published helmet study that found no difference in concussion protection between older and newer versions.
“The newer helmets are about 40 percent thicker, so it’s not a surprise that they would reduce the linear impacts you would record,” said Dr. Robert Cantu, a professor of neurology and neurosurgery at the Boston University School of Medicine and co-director of the Center for the Study of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy. Cantu also serves on the board of trustees as vice president of the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment.
“What is surprising is the degree to which they appear to have found concussion to be reduced,” he added.
Since rule changes can only go so far in reducing the risk of impacts to the head, the scientists say that improving helmet design to lessen the damage that such trauma can do to the brain is also critical, and their data suggest that may be possible. No helmet can prevent 100% of concussions, but if some can reduce the risk, then they should be studied further, the researchers say.
More PediaBlog on concussions here.