Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

Features

June 24, 2014

A safer helmet?

New tests for helmets proposed in concussion fight

WASHINGTON (AP) — There is no concussion-proof football helmet, but manufacturers may soon have to meet new testing standards against certain concussion-causing forces — a step in the quest for more protection.

The organization that sets safety standards for athletic equipment was preparing to adopt the testing criteria on Friday.

It is part of a movement to try to make contact sports safer, as concern about concussions is growing. There's even a new smartphone app to help parents and coaches recognize right away if a player may have a brain injury.

Football helmets were designed to protect against catastrophic injuries such as skull fractures and bleeding in the brain, and are considered highly effective at that. They're tested for how they withstand direct blows, so-called linear forces that can make the brain bump back and forth.

The proposed new standard would add an additional test of how helmets perform when an impact also makes a player's head suddenly spin, causing the brain to stretch and twist inside the skull as it changes direction. Scientists call that rotational acceleration, and brain specialists say limiting both kinds of forces is important.

"We're plowing new ground here," Mike Oliver, executive director of the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment, told The Associated Press.

The hope is that the standard might eventually spur safer helmet designs.

"I don't believe helmets will ever be the sole solution for concussion," said Dr. Robert Cantu, a Boston University neurologist, a leading sports concussion expert and vice president of the athletic equipment standards committee. But, "it puts us on the road to developing helmets that will lessen the chance for concussion."

Once the standard goes into effect, expected in about a year, it would apply only to new helmets.

"We don't foresee any need to replace all the helmets that exist with new and different helmets," Oliver said. "This is a first step."

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