It took decades, but football helmet testing is getting more and more sophisticated


The football deaths were out of control.

When 36 athletes in the United States died of head and neck injuries while playing the game in a single year, 1968, the sport recognized it had a serious problem. What followed was the formation of the National Sports Equipment Standards Operating Committee (NOCSAE).

In 1970, NOCSAE had developed a rather rudimentary test in which a helmet, filled with a dummy head and neck, fell at certain speeds onto a hard rubber platform. The biofidel head shape has been specially designed to mimic the response of the human head to what happens during sports impacts, including moment of inertia, mechanical impedance and frequency response.

The results – based on a mathematical equation – were in black and white, pass or fail.

As millions of children and adults have dabbled in sports, this single test was the norm for over 45 years.

It was not until 2017 that the NOCSAE Standards Committee finalized revisions to the helmet standard that limits the rotational forces involved in concussions. Manufacturers are required to meet the new performance standard as of November 2019.

According to NOCSAE, “the majority of neuroscientists believe that rotational accelerations are more harmful to the brain than linear accelerations. “

The new test, which was developed by NOCSAE based on the testing methodology of the NFL and its Canadian lab, Biokinetics, uses an air cylinder that strikes the helmet at 19.6 feet per second at six different locations, including a random place. In the ram test, the shape of the head has a movable neck, unlike the drop test.

The same test parameters are used at Virginia Tech University, which publishes annual helmet reviews.

All organizations still use the drop test in conjunction with the rotation exam.

Not all scientists agree that modern helmets are effective in preventing traumatic brain injury. In a 2014 study presented at the American Academy of Neurology annual meeting, researchers concluded that helmets reduced the risk of TBI by just 20% compared to a person not wearing a helmet.

Conversely, helmets reduced the risk of skull fractures by 60 to 70%.

“Alarmingly,” the study notes, “the ones (helmets) that offered the least protection are among the most popular in the field.

“Biomechanical researchers have long understood that rotational forces, not linear forces, are responsible for serious brain damage, including concussions, brain injury complications, and brain bleeding. Yet generations of footballers and other sportsmen have assumed that their brains are protected by their investment in head protection. “

The study also gave its opinion on youth participation in football: “Protection against concussions and brain injury complications is particularly important for young players, including elementary and secondary, high school and high school athletes. college, whose still developing brain is more sensitive to the lasting effects of trauma.


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