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Study: Commonly Used Football Helmets Do Little To Protect Against Traumatic Brain Injuries

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – A new study has some disturbing information about football helmets.

The research, which was released Monday, reveals that the helmets currently used on the field may do little to protect against hits to the side of the head, which can cause brain injuries and encephalopathy.

Researchers say they modified the standard drop test system approved by the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment, which tests impacts and helmet safety. A crash test dummy head and neck were used to simulate impact, and sensors were placed on the dummy's head to measure linear and rotation responses to repeated 12 mph impacts.

Scientists conducted 330 tests to measure how 10 popular football helmet designs protected against traumatic brain injury, including the Adams a2000, Rawlings Quantum, Riddell 360, Riddell Revolution, Riddell Revolution Speed, Riddell VSR4, Schutt Air Advantage, Schutt DNA Pro+, Xenith X1 and Xenith X2.

On average, football helmets reduced the risk of brain injury by only 20% when compared to not wearing a helmet. Of the 10 brands tested, the Adams a2000 provided the best protection against concussion and the Schutt Air Advantage the worst. The Riddell 360 provided the most protection against closed head injury while the Adams a2000 the least, despite rating the best for protection against concussion.

"Alarmingly, those that offered the least protection are among the most popular on the field," said study co- author Frank Conidi, MD, DO, MS, director of the Florida Center for Headache and Sports Neurology and Assistant Clinical Professor of Neurology at Florida State University College of Medicine in Port Saint Lucie, Fla. Conidi is also the vice chair of the American Academy of Neurology's Sports Neurology Section. "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."

Compared to tests that used dummies with no helmets, the football helmets tested reduced the risk of skull fracture by 60 to 70 percent and reduced the risk of focal brain tissue bruising by 70 to 80 percent.

"Protection against concussion and complications of brain injury is especially important for young players, including elementary and middle school, high school and college athletes, whose still-developing brains are more susceptible to the lasting effects of trauma," Conidi said.

The study's findings are slated to be formally presented at the American Academy of Neurology's 66th Annual Meeting in Philadelphia in late April.

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