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High-Tech Football Helmets Gauge Force of Collision
Date:7/20/2011

By Randy Dotinga
HealthDay Reporter

WEDNESDAY, July 20 (HealthDay News) -- High-tech helmets worn by some U.S. high school football players can quantify the force of impact, offering new insight into head and spine injuries.

The data from the collisions may eventually help manufacturers design helmets that are more protective, said Steven P. Broglio, a professor of kinesiology at the University of Michigan and lead author of a new report about the technology.

"Now you have real data showing what's happening at the time of impact," said Broglio. The helmets also provide instant warning that a player may have a head injury, he added. "We can tell you that a certain player took a big hit, and that the hit is large enough that he at least needs to be evaluated."

Deaths on the football field are rare today, but younger players in particular can still suffer head traumas. Severe head injuries are about three times more common among high school football players than college athletes. It's not clear why the difference exists.

The 45 high-tech helmet devices, which cost a total of $65,000, have been used in helmets worn by high school football players in Tolono, Ill., for four years. Six battery-powered sensors inside each helmet device track the location and magnitude of impact, and detect the speed of a player's head as it goes from running speed to a halt, Broglio said.

The helmets allow researchers to understand what happens at the time of impact without having to rely on studies in animals or computer simulations.

Their research shows that the top of the head and the sides of the head are especially vulnerable in a collision, he said.

One goal of the research is to understand how concussions occur. Broglio said they're not a matter of the brain slamming into the skull, but instead are a result of the brain being forcefully jiggled, like a shaken Jell-O mold.

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