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Football helmets meet current standards for multiple hits, study says

New research has looked into the modern football helmets’ ability to withstand multiple impacts and finds that while current helmet designs do lose some of their protective capabilities over multiple impacts, the recorded loss is within acceptable limits, according to today’s standards.

With public and industry concerns about concussions in sports currently at an all-time high, assurance that the helmets our pro athletes strap on – as well as the ones we put our children in – have gone through the toughest and most thorough testing imaginable. And while football helmets do need to meet standards not just for their ability to absorb a single hard hit but also for their ability to withstand multiple impacts, it turns out that what the standards call “multiple” hits doesn’t nearly match the quantity of blows taken during the course of a regular football season.

The current football helmet standards, as set by the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment (NOCSAE), an association formed in 1969 and funded by equipment manufacturers to ensure continued research into sports-related head trauma, call for measuring a helmet’s absorptive capacity over three to five hits per location on the helmet, a tiny fraction of the number absorbed during real-time use where a professional football player can be on the receiving end of up to 1400 hits to the head during a single season.

This discrepancy has led researchers at the University of Ottawa’s School of Human Kinetics to put football helmets through a more rigorous form of testing, where various locations on four different brands of helmet were impacted in a laboratory setting – at a rate of 100 times per location – to test the durability and integrity of the helmets’ absorptive materials. “Ideally, football helmets should be made of material capable of attenuating the energy of an impact or multiple impacts without being permanently deformed or fracturing,” say the study’s authors.

The results showed that while the linear acceleration (the measure of the force of impact) did rise over the course of the 100 measured hits, the difference amounted to only a slight increase in impact which the researchers determined to be clinically insignificant and, “unlikely to be a factor in head-injury causation during a game or over a season.”

In 2013, the National Football League reached a $1 billion (USD) settlement with 20,000 former players who were suing the NFL over neurological damages incurred during their playing careers. The settlement compensates former players who have since developed symptoms of neurological damage, provides medical benefits to former players who are currently symptom-free and establishes a fund for continuing research into brain injury.

Recently, 1,000 former NFL players have launched a suit against Riddell, the company who supplied helmets to the NFL between 1989 and 2014. The lawsuit claims that Riddell was aware of the risks of concussion in pro football but kept them secret. Some of the Riddell plaintiffs include former New York Giant Leonard Marshall, former Miami Dolphin Mark Duper and former Dallas Cowboy Tony Dorsett.

The new research is published in the Journal of Athletic Training.

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About The Author /

Jayson is a writer, researcher and educator with a PhD in political philosophy from the University of Ottawa. His interests range from bioethics and innovations in the health sciences to governance, social justice and the history of ideas.

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