New football helmet detects impacts that may cause traumatic brain injury

Sport and recreational activities account for some 21% of traumatic brain injuries in American children and adolescents, and football players are particularly prone to head injuries that can lead to permanent brain damage.

American football is associated with more head injuries than any other. Last year, for example, more than 34,600 football players were treated for head injuries in U.S. hospital emergency rooms. But the incidence of traumatic brain injury among footballers maybe far higher, as injuries that could cause damage to the brain often go unnoticed.

Players experience repeated impacts when tackling and being tackled. These often lead to minor concusions which can go unnoticed. And, because of the macho nature of the sport, players are often allowed to continue playing after incurring an injury, increasing the risk of sustaining further brain damage.

Now, the Illinois-based sporting equipment manufacturer Riddel has developed a new football helmet that can measure the location, direction and severity of an impact. It can, therefore, help coaches and medics to identify concussions that may otherwise have gone unnoticed.

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The Revolution Hits IQ is equipped with 6 acceleromenters that are fitted within the lining. The sensors, which are the same as those used in airbags, measure the linear and rotational acceleration of the head that occurs following a powerful impact. The impact data is transmitted wirelessly to a laptop computer on the sidelines,which translates it into a reaction force.

Riddell already supplies similar impact-detecting helmets to a number of university football teams in the U.S. The team system costs between $60,000- $70,000. It comes with a response system that sends an alert to the trainer when a player experiences an impact above a predetermined threshold. Individual helmets, costing $1,000 each, will soon be available. 

Soccer players are less susceptible to head injuries than American footballers, because the sport involves far less physical contact. Some believe that heading the ball (or striking it with the forehead) may cause some brain injury, but a study published recently in the British Journal of Sports Medicine suggests that this is not the case.  

Nevertheless, a company called Simbex is testing the same technology in soccer headbands,  and in hockey and skiing helmets. Simbex has just received a $1 million grant from the U.S. Army to develop combat helmets equipped with the new technology. 

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