WEDNESDAY, July 20 (HealthDay News) -- High-tech helmets worn by
some U.S. high school football players can quantify the force of
impact, offering new insight into head and spine injuries.
The data from the collisions may eventually help manufacturers
design helmets that are more protective, said Steven P. Broglio, a
professor of kinesiology at the University of Michigan and lead
author of a new report about the technology.
"Now you have real data showing what's happening at the time of impact," said Broglio. The helmets also provide instant warning that a player may have a head injury, he added. "We can tell you that a certain player took a big hit, and that the hit is large enough that he at least needs to be evaluated."
Deaths on the football field are rare today, but younger players
in particular can still suffer head traumas. Severe head injuries
are about three times more common among high school football
players than college athletes. It's not clear why the difference
The 45 high-tech helmet devices, which cost a total of $65,000,
have been used in helmets worn by high school football players in
Tolono, Ill., for four years. Six battery-powered sensors inside
each helmet device track the location and magnitude of impact, and
detect the speed of a player's head as it goes from running speed
to a halt, Broglio said.
The helmets allow researchers to understand what happens at the
time of impact without having to rely on studies in animals or
Their research shows that the top of the head and the sides of
the head are especially vulnerable in a collision, he said.
One goal of the research is to understand how concussions occur.
Broglio said they're not a matter of the brain slamming into the
skull, but instead are a result of the brain being forcefully
jiggled, like a shaken Jell-O mold.
In their report, published July 21 in a letter to the editor in
New England Journal of Medicine, Broglio and his colleagues describe the case of an 18-year-old high school player who broke his neck while wearing one of the high-tech helmets. He has since recovered.
The player, who was on the defensive side, tried to tackle a
receiver and ran his head into the receiver's back, Broglio said.
The data, collected over the course of 40 milliseconds, showed the
duration of impact was almost twice as long as that of a crash that
would cause a concussion, he said. The collision placed a heavy
load on his head and neck, he said, "and the force of his body adds
additional oomph to the collision. We think that's why his neck
The football research could lead to improvements for helmets
used by bikers, skiers, baseball players, hockey players and more,
said Dr. Gail Rosseau, a neurosurgeon at NorthShore University
Health System in Chicago.
For now, though, she said the focus should be on getting people
to wear helmets. "It's been estimated that 85 to 88 percent of head
injuries that occur in biking could be prevented through
Among people younger than 30, injuries from sporting and
recreational activities are the second most common cause of
cervical spine injury, the study authors reported.
The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons has more on
preventing football injuries.
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