New study on helmet safety brings as many questions as answers

Does one brand of football helmet do a better job of protecting a player against concussions? Do helmets provide any protection against concussions at all? Does a helmet that was introduced in 2000 protect against concussions better than one using much older technology, but which, despite being first introduced 20 years ago is still on the market and, as recently as 2011, was still being worn by 38 percent of NFL players? Because these are the kinds of questions that parents, players, coaches and equipment managers are asking, MomsTeam went looking for answers. The result is that this week's best from MomsTeam focuses exclusively on football helmets.

MomsTeam's Brooke de Lench and senior editor Lindsay Barton examined the subject, beginning with a comprehensive article about a new study that explores all sides of the helmet issue and articles with the thoughts of one helmet company's CEO on the new research, the reaction to the study of the executive director of NOCSAE, the group that sets football helmet standards, and what the study's co-lead author thinks it means for the STAR helmet ratings he helped develop.

  • First up is a report on a study, by a team of some of the nation's top concussion researchers, that found the design of football helmets can affect concussion risk. The study, led by Virginia Tech-Wake Forest biomechanical scientists Steven Rowson and Stefan Duma, provides what they say is the first good clinical evidence that helmet design can lower the risk of concussion, not in a laboratory, but in games and practices. But, as de Lench and Barton reported, because the study compared a helmet introduced in 2000 to one employing 20-year-old technology, it leaves unanswered the question faced by football parents, coaches and administrators as to whether or not a difference in concussion risk reduction exists between new helmet models.
  • To say that the reaction of football helmet manufacturers to the Rowson-Duma study reporting that football helmet design can reduce concussion risk has been mixed is an understatement. Perhaps nothing illustrates just how competitive is the business of making football helmets than the long email Schutt CEO Rob Erb sent MomsTeam's Brooke de Lench blasting the study.
  • At the other end of the spectrum, MomsTeam contacted the co-author of the study, Stefan Duma. To find out more about the study and its implications, especially for the STAR helmet ratings system he and fellow Virginia Tech-Wake Forest scientist Steven Rowson have developed, Barton conducted an interview via email with Professor Duma.
  • With the release of the Rowson-Duma helmet study, attention has once again focused on their controversial STAR helmet ratings, so Barton decided it was a good time to update her comprehensive article reporting on the 2013 ratings to reflect the recent study. The big news from Prof. Duma is that an update will be issued in May on new helmets, that ratings will issue in the fall of 2014 on helmets for ice hockey utilizing new methodology measuring a hockey helmet's ability to not only reduce linear acceleration but rotational acceleration, believed by most head injury experts to be the kind of force most often causing concussion, with new football helmet ratings using the new methodology not now expected until 2015.
  • No organization has been more critical of the STAR helmet rating system than NOCSAE, the non-profit group that has been setting performance standards for football for three decades. To find out what NOCSAE had to say about the new Rowson-Duma study and whether its findings had in any way changed NOCSAE's position on the shortcomings it perceived in the STAR system, de Lench asked Mike Oliver, NOCSAE's longtime executive director to weigh in.

-- MomsTeam.com

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