SIMPLE SCIENCE: How do helmets work?


With the start of the 2016-2017 football season, the National Football League announced a $100 million initiative to improve the safety of the sport. This includes funding research and advancements to prevent and diagnose head injuries.

During the last season, 271 concussions were diagnosed in the league. Despite the use of helmets, this number is still larger than years prior, according to Pro Football Talk.

Although some may believe that wearing a helmet makes the wearer invincible, it is much better to not hit something than to hit something while wearing a helmet, according to the Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute.

Helmets work by providing a cushion for the head upon impact, extending the amount of time the head has to stop moving so it does not accelerate and decelerate too quickly, according to the site.

In lab tests, impact without a helmet immediately throws the head into motion, giving sharp acceleration and deceleration. With a helmet, that motion is spread more than 6 milliseconds, reducing the peak impact on the brain, according to the site.

Brain injury happens when the brain is impacted directly or when the head is thrown into motion. The brain stays motionless, but the blood vessels and nerves all move around and become strained, causing injury, according to the site.

Thicker cushions increase the amount of time the head has to move, subsequently decreasing the chances of brain injury. Cushions that are less dense would be able to collapse when impacted with smaller force, but would not be effective for stronger blows, according to the site.

Ideally, a helmet would be able to handle high amounts of force and withstand multiple impacts, among other things. For various reasons, such ideal helmets are not in production, but improvements could certainly be made, according to the site.


Harshel Patel

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