Helmet Study Tests Concussion Impacts on Athletes

April 24, 2014

For an athlete in a contact sport, concussions can happen. For Rob Schotta, he’s had two in the past two years.

"I just kind of felt different coming off the field, I didn't fee like myself,” say Schotta. “I felt kind of just dazed."

Schotta had one concussion while playing football and another while playing lacrosse.

"I had constant headaches and I just couldn't focus on one thing at a time."

He is a junior at St. Anne's-Belfield School in Albemarle County and says that after his concussions he took time off before getting back on the field.

“I was eager to get back out and play, but it did kind of slow me down and made me more cautious, because if I got out there too early much worse things could've happened.”

He mentioned that he could’ve had Second Impact Syndrome, which occurs after a person suffers a second concussion before symptoms from the first one have gone away.

“There are some people who are stuck with symptoms for years.”

Dr. Jason Druzgal at the UVa Health System says concussions can happen to anyone.

“The biggest population of people who get concussions are really accident victims,” says Dr. Druzgal. “Football helmets were originally designed not to prevent concussions, but to prevent head fractures, and they have been wildly successful at that. However, they weren't designed to prevent concussions.”

His office has been studying the images head injuries to determine what happens to the brain when someone suffers a concussion.

Anew study at Virginia Tech is calculating how much protection helmets offer athletes.

Dr. Stefan Duma from Virginia Tech's School of Biomedical Engineering has put a few helmets to the test in a new study that looks at the actual amount of impacts a helmet can take. They studied athletes at different levels for several years then created a scale, rating helmets from one to five stars.

“You have to perform well at low levels and high levels,” says Dr. Duma. “The helmet has to do well for the big hits and it also has to do well for the small hits that happen every day and those are your five, six, seven hundred hits per season.”

On average a linebacker on the college level receives about 1,000 head impacts per season. For high school that number is cut in half.

“You have to understand how much is too much, how often is too much, what are the triggers that cause CTE, and then change the sport or equipment to avoid that,” explains Dr. Duma. “Right now, it's a big unknown."

CTE, also known as Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, occurs in people who have multiple concussions and head injuries.

In the Virginia Tech study the helmets are tested with a machine that measures the amount of impact the helmet can take.

The five-star rated helmets, like the Ridell 360, were the best at taking both the big and the small hits, but Dr. Duma says helmets aren't the final answer in these contact sports.

“Helmets are not the solution, there's no concussion proof helmet, there's always a risk.”

Instead he says sports should teach players better techniques so that they can reduce the number of head injuries and allow athletes like Rob Schotta to remain concussion free.

Moving forward Dr. Duma says they will study concussions in not helmeted sports like soccer.

For more information on the study and to see how the helmets are rated click on the link under the picture.

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