IMPROVED PROTECTION FOR SPORTS HELMETS
Dr. C.J. Abraham, P.E.
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> Improved Protection For Sports Helmets
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Assuming that the state of technology for absorbing and dissipating forces for protective helmets has reached its peak, respective manufacturers will be forced to modify the size and weight of their products in order to enhance the absorption and dissipation of impact forces. In the alternative, if an insert is devised so that added protection against the forces is achieved to a significant degree without changing the weight and size of the helmet, the risk of any injury to the brain will be reduced accordingly and the protective helmet will meet the current standards for size and weight.
This paper documents the study and development of an improved energy absorption system incorporating a protective sweatband designed to be worn on the head in conjunction with a previously existing helmet for enhanced protection. The device is suitable for usage in connection with a host of sporting activities including, but not limited to, football, hockey, lacrosse, cycling, horseback riding, and skateboarding,
The Consumer Product Safety Commission has recently raised awareness regarding the risk of concussions as a result of head injuries. Moreover, this risk is especially high for children. Therefore, the frontal forehead and temporal area must be protected better than any other area. Although it may not prevent a concussion, the present proposed product can significantly reduce the incidence and risk.
Further, repeated concussions are particularly damaging when players have yet to fully recover from previous concussions. It should also be noted that many children engage in physical activities where the forehead area is struck. Frequently, children do not fully recover from such concussions.
At the present time, the primary forces are absorbed and dissipated by the protective helmet and polymer system within the shell and the brain receives whatever forces remain. In order to enhance the energy absorbing capability of a protective helmet without changing the size and weight of the helmet, one must consider what system can absorb part of the primary forces and what can be done to absorb part of the secondary forces before the remaining forces reach the brain.
Two applications were evaluated and tested. The first absorbed the primary forces using a polymer system prior to reaching the shell and the second absorbed the forces after the shell had absorbed and dissipated the initial impact.
The availability of polymeric and/or combinations of polymeric materials are numerous and, in the long run, there is very little difference in the energy absorption qualities of the systems now being utilized in the shells.
In the first series of tests, an assembly of preformed polyurethane protective pads was attached to critical or vulnerable locations on the exterior part of the helmet (1). The results indicate in all cases that the absorption and dissipation of impact forces was reduced by a minimum of 35%. The only problem was that the use of external padding would not be aesthetically acceptable.
Prior to the testing involved in this study, a headband was invented for children and teenagers to be used in the sport of soccer (2). Independent testing of the headband at McGill University in Montreal, Canada documented that the subject headband absorbed and dissipated up to 83% of the force of impact by a soccer ball to a child's head. This result indicated some promise for a design that can be accommodated to fit into a helmet and add to the protection of the most vulnerable areas of the player's brain. The headband had some advantages that the pre-existing polymeric system did not have. It absorbed moisture, air was able to flow through the system (polymer was breathable); it could be reversed to the dry side after the initial side was saturated; it was easily washed; and the added weight, which would not be considered part of the helmet, was minimal.
The objective was to have the plastic shell absorb the initial impact. The shell would spread out the initial force due to the impact and the polymer system within the shell would then absorb part of the remaining forces due to the initial impact. The insert would then absorb the secondary forces and significantly reduce the amount of force coming in contact with the brain.
In the preferred mode of manufacture, the insert is comprised of a "horizontal" sweatband portion, much like a typical headband, which incorporates the insertion of protective material such as foam padding or a semi-rigid (breathable or non-breathable) insert, within a generally tubular perspiration-absorbing cotton fabric. The ends of the tubular band are joined with one another via means selected from a group consisting of snaps, Velcro, hook and loop fasteners, or buttons to effectively contain the insert(s) and provide a secure fit for the user. Alternatively, the ends of the band may be permanently affixed to one another by being sewn together. The horizontal sweatband may be affixed to a "vertical" portion in a cross pattern configuration, perpendicular to the horizontal portion. As such, the vertical portion extends from the user's forehead over the crown of the head to the back of the head and also includes apertures for the insertion of inserts to provide additional protection.
The sweatband functions to effectively absorb perspiration in the traditional sense, as well as provide an appropriate level of ventilation and breathing, reducing heat in the process. It is also expandable, much in the manner of a traditional headband. The protective insert's polymer is open and aids in removing the perspiration from the head while the headband design also absorbs the sweat. It is also reversible. Therefore, when the side adjacent to the head is wet with perspiration, it can be reversed to the dry side. Cleaning the insert can be easily accomplished by rinsing the product with warm water and soap.
Due to the presence of an additional layer beneath the helmet, it takes more time for impact forces to reach the user's head, thus providing greater protection. Moreover, the open spaces provided by the design allow for an additional dimension of protection, as impact forces must travel additional distances to reach the user's head. As such, the spreading of forces provides significantly greater absorption and dissipation than the preexisting helmet.
The testing of the helmet insert and protective device was independently performed at INTERTEK in Cortland, New York on November 11, 2004 The test method used was ASTM F 1045 with a 41" drop. The protocol was used to determine the feasibility of the concept, the consistency for a variety of protective helmets and whether the results would make a significant difference in the absorption and dissipation of forces. A small change would not be useful.
The preliminary results document a significant improvement in the reduction of forces that the brain would receive upon impact. The protective insert (3) can be used in conjunction with most sports helmets (bicycle, hockey, baseball, lacrosse, football, etc.).
It is important to note that the protective device absorbs and dissipates the secondary forces impinging on the helmet. By incorporating the protective insert to most protective helmets, it can significantly reduce small forces with impulses lasting a few milliseconds.
The insert described above has shown significant improvement in the absorption and dissipation of impact forces. It also demonstrates that there will be a significant reduction in the risk of head trauma if one is exposed to an impact to any part of the protective helmet. Further studies should be made with additional modifications in the band as well as the testing of the usefulness in actual play.
The benefits realized by the players and industry is that: