Study Ranks 10 Football Helmets for Concussion Safety

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No magic football helmet can prevent players from sustaining concussions. But thanks to new research out of Virginia Tech, football players, and their parents, now know which equipment could reduce the risks.

Over the past decade, the Virginia Tech researchers have compiled data from more than a million head impacts at Virginia Tech football practices and games. From these statistics, scientists were able to specify the speeds and tackling angles that would most likely to lead to concussions.

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The scientists tested the safety features of 10 different helmet models, measuring the accelerations, at impact, when the helmets were sped from these multiple distances and angles. The data yielded an overall STAR value — Summation of Tests for the Analysis of Risk — for each helmet. Taking these values, the Virginia Tech researchers created a ranking system: the safest helmet, the Riddell Revolution Speed, was assigned five stars — the top grade — and the least safe helmet, the Adams A2000 Pro Elite, was slapped with the label NR: Not Recommended.

A paper describing Virginia Tech’s methodology will be published in the Annals of Biomedical Engineering.

This important work could shake up the helmet market. “For the first time, consumers can go to a website and see which helmets have the best chance to reduce the risk of a concussion,” says Stefan Duma, a professor of biomedical engineering at Virginia Tech and head of the Virginia Tech-Wake Forest University School of Biomedical Engineering and Sciences.

The problem of concussion exists at every level of football, threatening players who sustain multiple hits with long-term brain injury. Recent studies of retired pro football players have shown that a history of concussion can lead to dementia-like brain damage associated with depression, suicidal tendencies and memory loss. Studies of former NFL players also show that they are at significantly higher risk of Alzheimer’s than the rest of the population.

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Better helmets could mean less risk of concussion and brain damage. The 10 helmets rated by the Virginia Tech researchers were as follows:

Five Stars: Best Available
• Riddell Revolution Speed

Four Stars: Very Good
• Schutt ION 4D
• Schutt DNA Pro +
• Xenith X1
• Riddell Revolution
• Riddell Revolution IQ

Three Stars: Good
• Schutt Air XP

Two Stars: Adequate
• Schutt Air Advantage

One Star: Marginal
• Riddell VSR4

NR: Not Recommended
• Adams A2000 Pro Elite

Price was by no means the strongest predictor of safety. The Adams A2000 Pro Elite, with an NR rating, costs $199.95, while the four-star Riddell Revolution and Schutt DNA Pro + cost $182.99 and $169.95, respectively.

The detailed rankings can be found on the school’s website: follow the link for the “National Impact Database” on the top right of the page.

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Last season, about half the team at Virginia Tech wore Riddell VSR4 helmets, which earned only a one-star, or “marginal,” ranking. The Hokies will upgrade to five-star Riddell Revolution Speed helmets this season.

Will the rest of the country do the same?