Modern Helmets Don't Protect Players from Concussions Any Better Than Old Leather Ones

Image credit:  Library of Congress
Image credit: Library of Congress

Clinic researchers, eager to show that modern helmet technology has room for improvement, tested both current helmets and the old leather kind using test dummies, smashing them together at forces typical of hits in a college football game.

Adam Bartsch is Director of the Cleveland Clinic Spine Research Center and lead author of the study:

BARTSCH: What we found was there were many instances of the impacts that we tested where our leather helmets actually fared pretty well, and in some cases, they even outperformed the modern helmets currently on the market.

The study appears in the November issue of the Journal of Neurosurgery.

Plastic helmets came on the scene in the 40s and 50s. They're great at protecting players from what Bartsch calls "kill shots," or catastrophic collisions.

But the league still struggles with how to protect players from smaller, subtler brain damage from repeated impacts, like in a typical game.

Up to 40 percent of football players experience a concussion each year.

We shouldn't go back to the days of leather, Bartsch says, but these findings do suggest we need to revamp helmets so that they better protect players from routine, as well as severe, hits.

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