The NFL has a concussion problem, and they’re on a mission to do something about it.
They have set up the “Head, Neck and Spine Engineering Subcommittee,” led by Dr. Jeff Crandall, and are spending hundreds of millions of dollars on research and development to cut down on head injuries.
The subcommittee includes biomechanical engineers, biomedical engineers, and material scientists who study helmets, pads and other equipment to improve safety on the field.
Crandall and his subcommittee have set up an “engineering roadmap” to deal with the NFL’s concussion issue.
“The engineering roadmap is a comprehensive and dedicated plan where we are trying to create innovation, and we are trying to significantly improve head protection for NFL players in three-five years,” Crandall said.
They are tapping into the scientific advances in head injury prevention from another major U.S. industry.
“It’s an injury-prevention strategy that is based on and takes a lot from practices that have been successful in automobile safety,” Crandall said.
The auto industry?
“If you look at what happens in automobile safety, the way that they design a vehicle now is very different from how they did it 30, 40 years ago, simulations are done before you have ever done an experiment, so you can run through many different iterations of design, and see which ones are effective,” Crandall said.
They are looking into advances in roof lining of cars as something that can be used in helmet technology.
The subcommittee has done extensive video research of every concussion from the last two years to see how each occurred.
“We’ve looked at over 300 concussive plays from the past two years, and we’ve tried to characterize them,” Crandall said. “One of the things that we’ve looked at is, what is the impact source, is it a helmet-to-helmet? Is it a helmet-to-body? Or is it a helmet-to-ground?”
What did they find?
“Roughly one-third of all concussions are caused by a helmet to helmet impact,” Crandall said. “About one-fifth or 20 percent are helmet to ground. Nearly half are helmet-to-body. If you look at this, we can compare it to some comparable data that was collected 15-20 years ago and we start to see a shift in the demographics of how concussions are occurring. What we see is that there has been roughly a 40 percent reduction in the number of helmet-to-helmet concussions that have occurred, so there has been a large drop in those.
“There has been an increase in helmet-to-shoulder caused concussions. What we’ve seen is definitely some of the rule changes and behavior have definitely limited or reduced the number of helmet-to-helmet collisions, so we’ve seen it effective.”
The NFL has commissioned several different companies to design new helmets that will limit concussions.
“We get in a laboratory, we bring all new models of helmets in, and we perform testing,” Crandall said. “We do this in conjunction with the players’ association. We now have three of our top four helmets this year are new 2017 helmets. One of those is actually the VICIS helmet, which many of you may have heard of, it came out of one of the head health challenge programs that the NFL along with GE and Under Armour funded.”
What is a VICIS helmet?
“Basically what that is, is a different type of helmet, it has a more deformable shell, an outer shell,” Crandall said. “What we’ve seen is that by innovations that can be realized, we can break away from traditional designs, and create better performing helmets. We’d like to capitalize on more of those innovations.”
Different helmets for different positions is on the horizon.
“Longer term, I said that we wanted to look at position-specific helmets,” Crandall said. “In order to get enough information to do that on all the different positions, we have to capture a lot of information on the head motions that occur both when players are injured and when they are not injured in plays. We’re looking at developing sensors that would go on the player’s head that would actually capture both the linear and rotational motions that occur during impact.”
So as you can see, the NFL is no longer playing head games. They are taking the concussion problem very, very seriously.