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Helmet Add-Ons May Not Lower Concussion Risk in Athletes

Football helmet add-ons such as outer soft-shell layers, spray treatments, helmet pads and fiber sheets may not significantly help lower the risk of concussions in athletes, according to a recently released study that will be presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s 67th Annual Meeting in Washington, DC, April 18 to 25, 2015.

“Our study suggests that despite many products targeted at reducing concussions in players, there is no magic concussion prevention product on the market at this time,” said study author John Lloyd, PhD, of BRAINS, Inc. in San Antonio, Fla., and a member of the American Academy of Neurology.

Researchers modified the standard drop test system, approved by the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment, by using a crash test dummy head and neck to more realistically simulate head impact. Sensors were placed in the dummy’s head to measure linear and angular rotational responses to helmet impacts at 10, 12 and 14 miles per hour.

Using this device, BRAINS researchers evaluated four football helmet add-ons: Guardian Cap, UnEqual Technologies’ Concussion Reduction Technology, Shockstrips and Helmet Glide. Riddell Revolution Speed and Xenith X1 football helmets were outfitted with each of these add-ons and impacted five times from drop heights of 1.0, 1.5 and 2.0 meters. Linear acceleration, angular velocity and angular accelerations of the head were measured in response to impacts.

The study found that compared to helmets without the add-ons, those fitted with the Guardian Cap, Concussion Reduction Technology and Shockstrips reduced linear accelerations by about 11 percent, but only reduced angular accelerations by 2 percent, while Helmet Glide was shown to have no effect.

“These findings are important because angular accelerations are believed to be the major biomechanical forces involved in concussion,” said Lloyd. “Few add-on products have undergone even basic biomechanical evaluation. Hopefully, our research will lead to more rigorous testing of helmets and add-ons.”

The study was supported by BRAINS, Inc. and Seeing Stars Foundation.

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Virginia Tech Football Helmet Ratings Update: Five New Helmets Meet Five-Star Mark

Virginia Tech has updated results of its adult football helmet ratings, which are designed to identify key differences between the abilities of individual helmets to reduce the risk of concussion.

All five of the new adult football helmets introduced this spring earned the five-star mark, which is the highest rating awarded by the Virginia Tech Helmet Ratings™. The complete ratings of the helmets manufactured by Schutt Sports and Xentih LLC, each with two new products, and Rawlings Sporting Goods Co., with one helmet, are publicly available at the helmet ratings website.

The new helmets are Schutt’s Vengeance VTD and AiR XP Pro VTD, Rawlings’ Tachyon; and Xenith’s EPIC and X2E.

Virginia Tech will continue to update its helmet ratings at the request of manufacturers as new helmets are sold. This brings to nine the number of helmets with the best available rating since therating system was introduced by Virginia Tech in 2011. At that time, only one helmet rated five stars.

Helmet ratings are based on research that includes analysis of more than 2 million head impacts recorded directly from high school and collegiate football players using helmet-mounted sensors. These data were used to create lab testing conditions representative of all the impacts players experience on the field.

Each helmet model’s ability to reduce concussion risk is assessed through 120 impact tests that are analyzed using the STAR Evaluation System, with each test weighted based on how often that impact condition occurs on the field.

Helmets that better manage the impact energy result in lower head accelerations and thereby lower concussion risk. To date, 23 helmet models have been evaluated through the analysis of more than 2,700 laboratory tests.

“The Institute of Medicine released a recent report on concussion in sports that found our helmet rating system to be a theoretically grounded approach on how the injury mitigation properties of helmets could be assessed,” said Stefan Duma, the Virginia Tech Harry C. Wyatt Professor and department head ofbiomedical engineering, and project leader.

The research is funded by the National Institutes of Health, which Duma said is being directly used to reduce player injuries. The impact of Duma’s research has been noticed: The NFL has placed a poster of the helmet ratings system in its 32 locker rooms to educate players on helmet safety. Duma expects all future football helmets to be five-star rated.

“Consumers care about safety, and as a result, helmets that are rated poorly are not selling,” he added. “This is going to continue to drive helmet design.”

Added Steven Rowson, an assistant professor of biomedical engineering at Virginia Tech: “This is remarkable progress for helmet safety in football. Not only are consumers using the ratings to purchase helmets, but manufacturers are using our rating system to design new helmets to achieve five stars.

“Our tests are representative of the impacts that players experience on the field, so helmets that perform well in our tests are going to perform well on the field, making the sport of football safer,” said Rowson, who developed the STAR system and testing of the helmets.

Duma and Rowson confirmed this in a peer-reviewed study investigating concussion rates in collegiate football players by helmet type and published in the Journal of Neurosurgery.

“We found that concussion risk was 54 percent lower in players wearing a four-star helmet compared to a one-star helmet,” said Rowson. “This closely matches the reduction in concussion risk that our ratings predict. It’s great to see agreement like this between our on-field and in-laboratory studies.”

Ratings this fall will be expanded to include hockey helmets using newly developed testing methods. The hockey ratings will incorporate both linear and rotational acceleration into the evaluation system, following a report from the Institute of Medicine that suggested that Virginia Tech add rotational acceleration and youth specific data to increase the wide-spread applications of the helmet system.

Football helmet ratings methodology will be updated in 2015 to include linear and rotational acceleration, which will include for the first time youth helmets. Duma and Rowson earlier laid five-year plans for evaluating helmets in all sports.

The researchers are careful to warn that any player in any sport can sustain a concussion, even with the best head protection. Virginia Tech’s rating system identifies helmets that best reduce the risk of concussion during play. “There is no concussion-proof helmet,” said Duma. “Modifying rules and teaching proper technique play the most important in reducing concussions in sports because they reduce exposure to head impact. For the remaining head impacts that do occur, having the best head protection will further reduce risk of concussion.”

The ratings system is independent of any helmet manufacturer and utilizes funding from private donations, the Virginia Tech School of Biomedical Engineering and Sciences, and Virginia Tech’sInstitute for Critical Technology and Applied Science. Detailed reports that outline the methodology and resulting data are available on theratings’ website.

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Attorney Praises Nomination of Elliot Kaye as New Chairman of the CPSC, Impact on Concussion Issue

Matt Howsare, of Mintz Levin, recently praised “the long awaited announcement” that Elliot Kaye has been nominated to become the next Chairman of the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

“Having previously served with Elliot in former Chairman Inez Tenenbaum’s office, I am not the least bit surprised that the President chose him to lead the agency. If you have ever had the chance to meet Elliot, you understand why. Elliot’s results-oriented and innovative leadership style over his years at the CPSC has served as the driving force behind many of the agency’s most collaborative and successful initiatives,” he wrote in Mintz Levin’s Consumer Product Matters (http://www.consumerproductmatters.com/) , a product safety and consumer related regulation and litigation blog.

“One of the best examples was his ability to coalesce the leading organizations and companies in football around a common goal: to address the serious issue of brain safety by creating a culture change in youth football through education and training. Here’s the CPSC’s description of a program that is emblematic of Elliot’s leadership style:

“In 2012, CPSC began an innovative public-private collaboration to work on lowering the risk of concussions and other mild traumatic brain injuries at the youth football level.  The ‘Youth Football Brain Safety’ initiative involved major companies that manufacture or recondition football helmets, industry associations (the National Athletic Equipment Reconditioning Association and the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association), the National Football League (NFL), the National Football League Players Association (NFLPA), USA Football (the official youth football development partner of the NFL and the NFLPA), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA).  Through private funding, the program provides assistance to football programs for economically disadvantaged youth, outfitting their players in newer and properly maintained helmets, provided those programs comply with CPSC- and CDC-supported comprehensive education efforts administered by USA Football aimed at driving a fundamental safety culture change in the sport.”

He continued: “Some of the other CPSC initiatives Elliot spearheaded during our time working together included the agency’s similar approach to addressing brain safety issues in youth baseball and utilizing a collaborative approach to address chemical burn hazards from the ingestion of coin cell batteries with major battery manufacturers. Elliot is currently serving as the Executive Director of the CPSC and previously served as the Chief of Staff and Deputy Chief of Staff of the agency. He also previously worked as the Chief of Staff and Legislative Director to Congressman John Tierney.

“It is expected that Elliot will be paired with Joe Mohorovic, who was nominated as the new Republican Commissioner in November of last year. Both nominees bring a considerable background and experience in the world of consumer product safety with them, meaning there will be practically no learning curve for the new leadership of the agency.”

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