By Ken Reed

Americans love football. Americans — at least most of them these days — also know that football is dangerous to the human brain.

Because of those two facts, businesses understand that if they can create a helmet that actually protects the brain from repetitive head trauma they will have struck the mother lode.

Some of the smartest and richest people in the country, including Bill Gates, are trying to find the magical football helmet that will eliminate, or dramatically reduce, concussion risk and long-term brain damage. The problem is, nobody has figured out how to put a helmet inside the skull to protect a brain that moves around like Jello in a bowl after contact.

“This technology is pretty solid at clearly measuring the forces on the helmet, but they’re not measuring the forces on your brain,” said Geoff Manley, chief of neurosurgery at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital. Manley is also co-director of the Brain and Spinal Injury Center at the University of California-San Francisco. “Just measuring the forces outside the cranium doesn’t give you an accurate picture of what’s going on inside your head.”

Exactly. Protecting the skull from blows to the head doesn’t prevent the whiplash effect that occurs to the brain following head trauma. Using technology in football helmets to measure head impact is not very helpful when trying to determine the short-and-long-term negative effects of head trauma on the brain.

According to a study in the March issue of the Journal of Athletic Training, “head-impact-monitoring systems have limited clinical utility due to error rates, designs, and low specificity in predicting concussive injury.”

Nevertheless, the quest for the magical football helmet continues.

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


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