Sunday, July 17, 2011

Football Helmet Manufacturers Step Up Brain Protection

As high school athletes suit-up for summer work-outs, helmet manufacturers ship helmets with fancier padding, while injury lawyers trawl the sidelines for players with concussions.

Football-related brain injury has gotten a lot of press for long-term injury in pro players and acute injury in high school players. A physician's group says there are 300,000 football related concussions, but no one really knows.

Since my  previous post in 2010, manufacturers have introduced better helmets, but they are much more expensive.

Small changes in padding make big differences in
concussion protection.
Another big change is Virginia Tech's large study of helmets using accelerometers and dropping studies to assess helmet design. This ranks major helmet's according to degree of impact reduction. A problem with the study is that concussions are caused by particular kinds of impacts, like side impacts, and the study does not address that. There is also manufacturer funded research like this.

Riddell, has won a patent infringement suit (see also) against two other manufacturers on concussion reducing features of their helmets. This shows large manufacturers want to include these features. Patent violations have driven Schutt Sports into bankruptcy.

Newer helmets have fancier pads and these need to be well-maintained and the helmet still needs to fit. These are air-filled, nitrile foam or polyurethane foam.

Lawyers started suing on behalf of lifetime pro players with brain disease, but have moved onto suing on behalf of high school athletes -- there are a lot more high school players. Some of the high school coaches say stupid things, and this gets their school districts massive legal trouble.

I wonder why polycarbonate remains the material of choice for the helmet, and I suspect it is appearance. Some have made low-gloss polyurethane foam based helmets, but these have failed to catch on. Some advocate for kevlar or carbon-fiber reinforced helmets as are used in motor-sports, but these are much more expensive.