Football Helmet Research Aimed at Reducing Concussion Injury

Sep 03, 2013, 11:39 ET from Orthopaedic Research Society

ROSEMONT, Ill., Sept. 3, 2013 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- As warm summer days give way to cooler temperatures, thoughts turn to fall.  Kids are back in school, leaves are turning brilliant colors of red and gold, and football season is just getting started.  NFL pre-season games are already in full swing and soon all across the country, college and high schools stands will be filled with cheering fans. 


Although football has been a favorite fall pastime for years, growing concerns over the number of concussion injuries suffered by players have overshadowed what was once a fun, family sport.  Recently, the NFL reached a tentative settlement for $765 million over concussion-related brain injuries. 

The CDC defines a concussion as "a type of traumatic brain injury that can be caused by a bump, blow, or jolt to the head.  Concussions can also occur from a blow to the body that causes the head and brain to move rapidly back and forth – literally causing the brain to bounce around and twist within the skull."  This type of injury can have a traumatic effect on the brain.  According to the CDC, "this sudden movement of the brain causes stretching, damaging the cells and creating chemical changes in the brain. Once these changes occur, the brain is more vulnerable to further injury and sensitive to any increased stress until it fully recovers."

Given the definition, it's no wonder that football players suffer concussions on a regular basis.  In fact, most players probably suffer several without even realizing it.  "One of the few things we know about concussions is that you are more likely to have a repeat concussion after you have had one concussion," explains Professor Joseph "Trey" Crisco of Brown University.

Crisco, a member of the Orthopaedic Research Society, and his team are seeking to not only understand concussions, but prevent them more effectively.  However, many questions about these types of injuries remain.  "We don't know if athletes suffer repeated concussions because something changes in the brain or if it's your style of play," Crisco explains.  "We don't know if you are more susceptible to one big head impact or lots of medium impacts. We don't know if females are more or less sensitive to head impacts than males."

Answering these questions is difficult since many athletes and coaches don't always recognize when a concussion has occurred.  That's where the HIT system comes into play.  Developed with Crisco's team and Rick Greenwald at Simbex, the Head Impact Telemetry (HIT) system is able to measure how hard, how often and where on the helmet an impact occurs.  The HIT system consists of six accelerometers that are located within a special liner inside the helmet.  This special liner elastically couples the accelerometers to the head' isolating it from shell vibrations.  With every hit, the acceleration of the head is recorded and automatically transmitted to a computer on the sideline.  If desired, a beeper can notify the medical professional of especially hard hits that they might not have seen. Armed with these tools, scientists are able to measure head impact exposure for the first time.  Professors Greenwald's, Duma's of Virginia Tech and Crisco's NIH/NICHD funded research studies have already shed new light on head impact exposures, concussion mechanism and the role gender plays in concussion injury.

"It is our hope," Crisco explains, "that our research will ultimately lead to positive changes in football rules and practice at the collegiate and youth level, improved helmet designs and testing and hopefully a reduction of concussion injuries."   Preventing concussions remains a top priority since there are currently no treatments for those who suffer these types of injuries.  With continued research, perhaps all athletes – youth and professional - will be able to play the game without worrying about the effects it will have on the rest of their lives.

Founded in 1954, the Orthopaedic Research Society ( strives to be the world's leading forum for the dissemination of new musculoskeletal research findings.  The musculoskeletal system provides form, support, stability, and movement to the body.  

SOURCE Orthopaedic Research Society