Sports Medicine Research: In the Lab & In the Field: Aftermarket Helmet Add-Ons Are Not Adding Up (Sports Med Res)
Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Aftermarket Helmet Add-Ons Are Not Adding Up

The Ability of an Aftermarket Helmet Add-On Device to Reduce Impact-Force Accelerations During Drop Tests

Breedlove K, Breedlove E, Nauman E, Bowman T, Lininger MR. J Athl Train. 2017; ahead of print

Take Home Message: A soft cap for helmets failed to alter impact severity during a NOCSAE based drop-test battery.

Repeated head impacts are a public health concern due to the potential long-term consequences. Researchers are trying to develop new technologies to lessen these problems by reducing head-impact magnitude. For example, a soft cap that is worn over top of the helmet has been suggested to reduce head-impact magnitude; however, the degree to which the soft cap reduces head impact severity has not been measured. Therefore, the authors sought to evaluate the effectiveness of a soft cap based on standards from the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment (NOCSAE), which involved measuring the amount of acceleration during drop tests on helmets with and without the soft cap. The authors used 9 new football helmets (3 Riddell Speed, 3 Xenith X2E, and 3 Xenith Epic helmets), and 9 new soft caps, supplied by the manufacturer. Each helmet was dropped on 6 different helmet locations (front, side, right front boss, right rear boss, rear, and top) at 3 different speeds (low, medium, high) with and without the soft cap. All the trials passed the NOCSAE acceleration threshold regardless of whether the soft cap was applied or not, where all the velocities recorded from the drop were categorized as safe. Overall, the trials with a soft cap typically had similar amounts of impact forces as those without the caps.   

The authors tested common football helmets at different velocities and locations and did not identify substantial differences in acceleration between trials with or without a soft cap. It should be noted that the NOCSAE protocol represents 1 type of analysis that can determine efficacy in reducing head impact severity of aftermarket devices like the soft cap. Additionally, the NOCSAE protocol that the authors implemented was developed to eliminate skull fractures and not the changes that can occur from concussive or subconcussive impacts. Lastly, the authors point out that using an aftermarket add on device would most likely void both the NOCSAE certification and manufacture warranty. It would be interesting to see future studies investigating these devices in a protocol more specific to concussion-like impacts as well as how it holds up against repetitive head impacts using a helmet telemetry system to measure helmet acceleration. In the meantime, medical professionals should look at the evidence supporting the use of these devices before purchasing aftermarket helmet add-ons. Medical professionals and coaches should also consider other techniques to reduce the number of head impacts and concussion risk such as education on concussion, practicing correct tackling techniques, and decreasing the number of tackling practices or practices with full equipment.

Questions for Discussion: Have you used any helmet technology designed to damper magnitude of impact? If so, did you notice any effect? Do you think the aftermarket add-on device would have any effect on reducing repetitive head impacts?

Written by: Jane McDevitt, PhD
Reviewed by: Jeff Driban

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