Last month, I testified in Columbus on behalf of Ohio House Bill 143, which strengthens concussion education and safe return to play. The legislation goes into effect in April.
As a result of so much talk and concern about concussions in young athletes, the helmet market has been booming. All of the manufacturers are coming out with helmets that claim to reduce concussions.
Today I had a chance to talk to WAKR‘s Ray Horner about new helmet technology and the research behind it. Below is a transcript of our discussion.
[Originally aired on 1590 WAKR-AM on February 20, 2013.]
Horner: Onboard with us, making his Wednesday appearance is our good friend, Dr. Joe Congeni from Sports Medicine Center at Akron Children’s Hospital. Good to see you up at the Hoban game on Friday night, Joe. It was senior night up there.
Dr. Congeni: Yeah, it was a good crowd, and it’s always a big game when Ray Horner’s in the house [laughter]. It was good to see you.
Horner: We had fun. Well, listen, you have a little more information on football helmets for us today.
Dr. Congeni: Yeah, I got to tell you, I’m getting more calls maybe than ever in my career about [it], especially with (Ohio) House Bill 143 passing — the concussion legislation. Its implementation is going to be April 26 of 2013 and a lot of people are asking, “What are we going to do about it? How are we going to deal with it? How are we going to get trained?”
Another thing has happened in January: I’ve never, with one article, gotten so many calls than on an article that came out in Popular Science magazine at the end of January 2013. The title of the article is “The Helmet That Can Save Football.” So, with all the questions, I had to read into it more and also because, you know, I’m not a big helmet guy.
As we’ve looked in the last decade, everybody’s in search for the Holy Grail — like we’re going to find some helmet that’s going to eliminate concussions. I just don’t see it, but I’m open to it. I’m open to science, and a lot of very bright researchers are trying to design new helmets — but not just for football. They’re actually looking for hockey helmets, ski helmets and other sports, too, but particularly with football, [they are] looking at developing new helmets.
This article comes out and really what it says is part of the big problem isn’t just looking at what’s new in helmets, it’s how we research helmets. It states the way that we’ve looked at research for helmets has not changed since 1972. That is, when we go into the laboratory and we look at helmets, we look at linear impact on these crash dummies.
Linear impact means a straight-line blow to the head. And you know, ‘cause we’ve talked about this a lot, what’s really been more concerning about hits leading to concussions are rotational mechanisms — a blow to the side of the head that causes a rotational mechanism to the brain. [That] has actually been more dangerous and, perhaps, the more common mechanism of what leads to a concussion, and they’re not even studying that in the laboratory. So, this article submits that we need to change totally the way we study helmets.
This study was done in Stockholm, Sweden, [which] happens to be home of the Nobel Peace Prize. So all these new helmets out in 2011 and 2012 — there’s one called the Guardian Cap, there’s one called the Bulwark and, of course, the longtime helmet maker, Riddell, has it’s new helmet out this year, Riddell 360 with concussion reducing technology — all of them were studied with linear or straight-line impact.
In Sweden, they’re looking at rotational mechanism and they have a new helmet called the Multidirectional Impact Protection System, a MIPS helmet. It [attempts] to reduce the blow to the side of the head. The head can slide a little bit in the helmet because they have this low friction, low viscosity band around the helmet, trying to get the head to slide so the brain does not get as much impact from a blow to the side of the head — a rotational mechanism. That’s the gist of this big article.
And I got to tell you, the research is good, the article’s good, it’s worth reading, but I’m very skeptical because it takes a long time to study these things. And it’s one thing to prove something in the laboratory and it’s another to prove it on the field. It’s going to take us a long time to look at this issue on the field.
Horner: Alright, good safety stuff this morning. Joe. As always, thanks for the time. We’ll catch up with you next week.
Dr. Congeni: Alright, Ray, take care. Have a good week.