According to a new report, most commonly used football helmets do very little to reduce the risk of traumatic brain injury, improving your chances by a measly 20 percent compared with not wearing one at all.
The study, conducted by researchers at the Florida Center for Headache and Sports Neurology and the Florida State University College of Medicine, tested the effectiveness of 10 leading football helmets — including the Adams a2000, Rawlings Quantum, Riddell 360, Xenix X2 and others — using a modified drop test. The researchers equipped crash dummies, some wearing helmets and some not, with sensors to measure linear and rotational responses to a series of 12 mph impacts, and repeated the tests 300 times.
They found that helmets protect players from linear blows well enough — they reduce the likelihood of skull fracture and brain bruising by 60-70 and 70-80 percent, respectively. The helmets tested, however, offer insufficient cover for rotational blows, issued to the side of the head. Report co-author Dr. Frank Condi explains why this is problematic:
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.
Condi concluded that though some helmets offer more protection than others, "all of them were terrible." Study author John Lloyd explains the mechanics of these types of injuries: “When the head comes to a sudden stop, if it’s rotating, the brain material is twisting inside the head... That can cause concussion and brain injury, including life-threatening subdural hematomas.”