Comparison of head impact attenuation capabilities between a standard American football helmet and novel protective equipment that couples a helmet and shoulder pads
Concussive and subconcussive sports-related head impacts are common in the United States, particularly in American football. Football helmets are constantly improving upon their predecessors and are proven to reduce head impact kinematics and the risk of sports-related head injury. All football helmets are required to pass certification testing overseen by the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment (NOCSAE) before they are permitted for use. A new advance in protective equipment involves coupling a helmet and shoulder pads as one connected piece of protective equipment. These protective gears cannot be tested using the standard NOCSAE method as they are worn over a user’s head, neck, and upper torso. We aimed to test the effectiveness of a prototype of a coupled, one-piece design, relative to a standard football helmet, using a custom drop tower method of testing. Relative to the standard football helmet, the coupled design reduced measures of peak linear acceleration at front, side, and rear impacts (p < .001) and peak rotational acceleration at all tested head locations (p < .004). The coupled design was also more effective than the standard helmet in attenuating the resultant upper neck force (p < .004) at all tested head impact locations and resultant upper neck moment at rear and side impact locations (p < .048). Future iterations of coupled, one-piece designs should use the results of this study to make improvements to the device, and further investigations on the effectiveness and safety implications of the protective gear are necessary.
KeywordsConcussion Helmet Headgear Head kinematics Neck injury
NJC, TJO, and JJR have a financial interest in Popejoy Sports LLC. Funding for study expenses was provided by the Popejoy Family Trust.
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