Better helmets are needed
Amid a growing body of research on the long-term cumulative effects of head trauma in contact sports, especially football, a principal focus has been on helmets.
Unfortunately, research about to be presented at the American Academy of Neurology's annual meeting finds that modern football helmets, which do a good job of protecting against skull fractures and brain contusions that result from blunt force, mostly are ineffective in guarding against concussions. Those injuries result from rotational force that causes the brain to move within the skull.
"All of them are terrible," said Dr. Francis X. Conidi, a Florida neurologist who tested the 10 leading brands of helmets against the types of impacts that cause concussions. Some helmets were better than others, but their performance fell within in a narrow range, Dr. Conidi told the Los Angeles Times.
Yet all of the helmets have been approved by the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment, a nonprofit organization that sets standards for athletic headgear.
And Dr. Conidi's findings don't mesh with those of the Virginia Tech-Wake Forest University School of Biomedical Engineering, which found a wider range of effectiveness among the products.
The researchers did agree, however, that more standardized testing is needed to produce more effective helmet designs.
"We can and should make better helmets," said John Lloyd, a biomedical engineer who worked with Dr. Conidi on his study.
Equipment never will fully resolve the concussion problem, but researchers should collaborate on standardizing tests to help make the headgear as effective as possible.