Thursday, October 27, 2011

Youth Helmet Study Measures Impact Frequency, Severity

Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg, Va, recently released results from the first study to investigate the head-impact characteristics of youth football helmets. The study set its goal as completely calculating and characterizing the helmet conditions in order to provide guidelines that will aide manufacturers in designing better helmets for children.

"Based on 8 years of studying head impacts experienced by Virginia Tech football players, we were able to quantify exposure for adult football players relative to impact location, severity, and frequency," Stefan Duma, PhD, Virginia Tech professor of biomedical engineering, says.

Duma, who is also department head of the Virginia Tech – Wake Forest University School of Biomedical Engineering and Sciences (SBES), the school that directed this project, continues, "Unfortunately, we cannot translate the adult exposure to the youth helmets because the impact conditions of youth football are completely unknown. To solve this problem, we are applying the same approach that we have used with the Virginia Tech football team to a youth football team.”

Beginning in August, the study followed the Auburn Eagles, a Montgomery County, Va, youth team made up of boys aged 6 years to 8 years. The players’ helmets were instrumented with custom 12-accelerometer arrays that measure how a child’s head responds to impact. Each time a player’s head felt impact, data was recorded and wirelessly downloaded to a computer on the sideline. To date, more than 400 head impacts experienced by the youth football team have been collected and analyzed.

The results of the study showed that, while most of the impacts collected were of very low severity, there were a few approaching impact levels associated with concussion in adult football players.

"Not only are the impacts generally less severe in youth football when compared to adults, but the frequency of the most severe impacts is substantially lower," Duma says.

Although the results of this study showed that impact frequency and severity is lower for youth football players, the researchers hope that steps will now be taken to create a safety rating system for youth football helmets that can be added to the National Impact Database’s STAR Evaluation System. The system was developed based on research conducted with the Virginia Tech football team.

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