Concussions in Sports

I was curious if anyone here has had any experience designing helmets for sports. Hockey and (American) Football specifically.

If you follow either of these sports, you will know that the topic of concussions, headshots, and everyone waiting for the day someone dies from a head injury in a professional game is a very hot topic of discussion.

Even today, Wouter Weylandt died in a cycling accident during the Giro. While he was going a bazillion Kilometers an hour down a hill, you have to expect that it was head trauma that was the primary cause of his death.

From a design perspective, I was wondering of anyone has any insight into this topic. Are helmets as good as they can be? Are there new ways of approaching the protection of the head? Can Design contribute to this topic? Is there technology available that is better than what is out there, but is stymied by not looking cool enough, or just being new technology that nobody will adopt?

I found this helmet a few months ago. It’s claim to fame is the multiple panels it uses to create the helmet and dissipate force and shock. The theory is based on research that shows the most damaging impact comes from glancing blows, and even a small amount of movement or give from the helmet will reduce the potential for injury.

There are other motorcycle helmet designs out there for protection of the brain, I think a couple of them had been posted here in the past. One keeps the brain cool in the event of a crash, and another has a flexible “skin” that absorbs some impact similar to human skin. I think the forces in play are similar in nearly all circumstances, so even though you are specifically asking for American football and hockey examples, it seems that the solutions could expand into other helmet designs.

Lazer SuperSkin Helmet:

ThermaHelm motorcycle helmet:

EDIT: Sorry the last paragraph is so poorly worded. Of course motorcycle helmets are designed to protect the brain. :unamused:

I meant that while some companies’ primary focus is on preventing damaging forces from reaching the brain, another area of R&D is focused on protecting the brain from further trauma by keeping it cool after a forceful impact. Obviously the priority is on prevention, but the ThermaHelm is unique in that it directly addresses the injury resulting from the helmet’s first-purpose failure in a worst-case scenario.

IP: Yeah, you can, but it’s complicated.

First of all, the athletes don’t want them. Pro bike and hockey helmets are built down to the weight & offer just the required amount of protection (yes, there are standards). Any more weight is competitive disadvantage. Just like steroids, it might be harmful to your body, but at this level, winning is everything.

Second, there are standards. It’s great to ensure a minimum of protection for any of the products you find on a shelf in a store (with proper label of course). However, it makes people feel they are safe enough. I know in football, we really need the NFL and NCAA to just require better protection (in fact, NFL now requires hip pads, previously optional). Unfortunately, they are snail-like slow.

Third, better protection can lead to more damage. It was the better football helmets of the 1970’s that lead to running backs leading with their head. No one in a leather helmet would dare try that.

I think the “wuss” factor may be the smallest difficulty of them all. However, it does show how great concepts need great design. Show a pro athlete something that was jury-rigged in a garage and he will laugh you off and tell all his friends what a dork you are. Show him a hot design and explain how he will be able to have a normal conversation with his kids when he is 50 and you have a shot.

Shaw, aka NXAKT, designs head gear…

Exhibit A: The Rawlings S100… AKA The Gazoo helmet.

One of the big obstacles with helmets is ventilation, which has requirements that are often 180-degrees out from shock attenuation or looking good. There are lots of really neat shock absorbing materials out there - Skydex is used in military applications from headgear to boat decks - harder variations or multiple densities of thermo-foam have been used too. The helmet company I used to work for had a patents on progressively crushable EPS liners that did much better on the Snell and ANSI tests than the competition.

Re: bike helmets and crashes - I didn’t see today’s crash ( :cry: but I don’t think a better helmet would have made much of a difference. Bike helmets are sold on appearance, weight, and ventilation. Very little has been done on the inside in the way of making a big difference in how many G’s affect your brain. Its mostly to make the helmet thinner and lighter so you’ll wear it, while still passing the test standards.

I think the box-within-a-box method has the most promise, like in a drop-proof computer.

I’ll have to find the example, but I believe the use of protection (helmets, shoulder pads etc) in American Football perversely increased injuries, as they became used as ‘weapons’.

Interesting that bike helmets improve aerodynamics but there is still a resistance to the weight- 200gms?

Absolutely. Not only that, but in competition (such as an uphill mountain stage at the Tour) many remove the helmets altogether. It’s pretty much the only UCI race where that is allowed.

When year after year bicycle manufacturers tout weight savings from the previous year’s frame/components, people notice and it drives sales. A sub-900g bike frame would have been unheard of 10 years ago. Now, it’s heavy.

On a side note, this is big news in Montreal today:

A 56-year-old man is being kept artificially alive after he slammed into the door of a car which was parked on Van Horne Avenue in the Montreal borough of Outremont.

The accident, called ‘dooring’, happened at 1:45 p.m. ET on Sunday just east of Wiseman Avenue.

The fifth paragraph finally says he wasn’t wearing a helmet. Ouch. It’s pretty amazing that we know that we can die if we just fall over in place and hit our heads, but put us on a bike that goes 20mph and we think nothing can happen.

This last incident peeved me off because they haven’t stopped talking about bike lanes on the radio. How about, “GET A HELMET”. Jeez… people are thick.

i work in the hockey industry, and as far as preventing concussions, helmets aren’t going to do much… they’re not CSA or HECC certified to do anything that reduces your chances of a concussion, only to prevent lacerations/skull fracture.

there’s a company that came out with a helmet they claimed would reduce the chance of concussion, but they’ve since had to change their PR angle after the better business bureau couldn’t find any proof in their advertising claims, and specified that they can’t imply that the helmet does anything in that regard.

plus you have players that wear their chin strap so loose they can “palm” their helmet on and off:

@vapor I love that you chose Bertuzzi for the image :slight_smile:

Why is it called the Gazoo helmet? Cuz it makes your head huge like Gazoo from the Flintstones?

I have the crazy idea this issue may be attacked by the insurance industry.

I foresee, sometime in future, some as yet developed active impact sense and response technology, a mix of motorsports active suspension and airbag like technology. Not force-sensitive azide based explosive, but the method of pico / femto second sense-response.

And in the days of 100 million $ employees, insurance underwriters will start to include policies based on some advanced technology protection usage to mitigate payouts. Athlete contracts will include clauses mandating usage, draftees will be beholden to signing them.

Same goes for the similar issue of MCL, ACL knee injuries. Individual athlete tuned specific active sense-response brace type device that in its response mechanism somehow prevents tissue damage.

Further, I see these active sense-response athlete protection mechanisms will also be data collectors, communicating with team controllers for further analysis.

But it will start with some small research lab somewhere and eventually be slowly implemented by the bludgeon of the insurance industry.


We have the technology. Alpine Star is debuting a line of riding gear with airbags. They can be repacked and re-used, unlike an automotive airbag. Dianese has a similar system:

pier: the only problem with your logic is the only people that get hurt from these injuries are the athlete and their agent. The teams have ways of getting out of the contracts and fresh meat waiting for a chance on the sideline. Just ask Steve Moore.

haha… nothing against big bert, he’s just the first that came to mind. its kind of funny how huge his gloves are to protect his hands, but he wears a small or medium size helmet.

i would say that it’s incorrect that only the athlete and the agent are hurt by an injury though; the Penguins, fans, and i would argue the entire NHL are hurting from Sidney Crosby being out with a concussion since new years. We’ve had plenty of NHL brass come asking for more protective gear to protect their assets, but the resistance is from the athletes… they’re are grown men though, they make their own decisions.

Hockey helmets are not HECC? I thought that they had to be? Whats the round sticker on the back? This is an interesting topic to me as I have been researching getting a new helmet. My helmet is so old that all the text has faded and the ‘padding’ is pretty much gone.

I have noticed a pretty large change in the technology since I bought my last helmet (2000). Im not sure if it helps, but most have multi-density foams and the fit seems to be tighter. I can rattle my helmet around by shaking my head (which probably isnt a good thing). I’ve been concussed a few times and KO’ed about 3 (even had the cage bolts pull out from the backside when hit from behind into the boards).

To be honest, I dont think you will ever be able to get the pros to really add more padding. Look at what happend to Franzen a few weeks ago (Johan Franzen hit by Shane Doan 04/16/11 - YouTube). When he returned in the 3rd, he didnt even have a face shield. Babcock obviously mentioned it to him, but he obviously didnt want it. This behavior goes all the way down to the amateur level. Look how long it took them to actually mandate helmets.

I dont know where I saw the concept, but there was a helmet that had a ‘break-away’ design. In an event of head trauma, the EMT could cut a wire that ran though sections of the helmet. This lets them remove the helmet in sections without having to really move the head, which could cause more injury.

Hockey is especially bad…this is a sport that had to mandate helmets but grandfathered the older players (!!!). Also, they played from 184x-1960 without the goalies wearing helmets. WTF makes a grown human stand in front of a frozen rubber puck flying at 160 km/h without head protection!!!

Grandpa Craig MacTavish

“wussy” Jacques Plante using a mask to protect his broken nose. What a wuss!

@joyride, the helmets are HECC approved but HECC doesn’t test the helmet on whether it can reduce the chance of concussion.

ive seen a puck cannon shoot at 105 mph… the level of violence when you’re watching it up close is shocking.