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Virginia Tech Researchers Revolutionize Sports Safety Helmets

By: Allan M. Siegel

Traumatic brain injuries are known for their serious and often life-altering impact on victims, especially athletes who play sports where impacts to the head are a common part of the game. Although the effects of brain injuries have been studied extensively over the years, there is still a lot of work to do when it comes to understanding their unpredictable nature, the best treatment options, and effective preventative measures. Thankfully, researchers at Virginia Tech are leading the way in working to prevent and reduce brain injuries in sports by revolutionizing the sports safety helmet industry.

The Virginia Tech-Wake Forest Center for Injury Biomechanics (CIB) has become known for its role in studying brain injuries in athletes and how new developments in helmet technology can best prevent them. The program began in 2002, back when concussions diagnoses and helmet safety were rarely a research topic, when researchers partnered with the Virginia Tech football team to monitor head injuries in players using sensors attached to their helmets.

Today, the Virginia Tech CIB has gained international recognition for its expertise in studying brain injuries suffered by athletes, auto accident victims, and even military veterans who were exposed to blasts. It is now the largest university injury biometrics research program in the world, and it’s using its resources to continue development of a helmet safety rating system that can be used throughout all sports.

Here are a few details about the Virginia Tech research program and how it is continuing to shape big changes when it comes to sports safety helmets:

  • Since researchers first started monitoring hits to the head using accelerometer sensors, the program has accumulated data on thousands of collisions for the Virginia Tech team, as well as over 3 million hits for every team that has been studied.
  • Using the data, researchers began developing methods to test and improve helmets, and manufacturers began updating helmet design in efforts to reduce concussion rates and lower G-forces generated by a hit.
  • The program launched the STAR system (Summation of Tests for the Analysis of Risk) system grades sports helmets on how they reduce acceleration of the brain when the head is hit in various ways.
  • When first testing and using the STAR system, researchers found that just a single helmet was worthy of its top five-star rating. As they accumulated more data, helmet design improved and now football helmets made in the USA nearly always earn five stars.
  • The STAR system is important to athletes, their parents, and their coaches – as researchers have noted that an impact registering 150 g-forces in a 1 star helmet registers half that amount in a 5 star helmet.
  • Researchers have expanded their research into other youth and adult sports, and are looking to implement the STAR system for headgear in every helmeted sport around the world, including bicycling.

The Virginia Tech program has helped immensely improve helmet safety and shed light on the dangers of concussions. In fact, the research and data have been crucial to raising awareness about brain injuries in sports, and to sparking conversations like those surrounding the NFL lawsuit and settlement, in which the NFL admitted that it knew the long-term risks of head injuries and that one-third of its athletes would develop various neurological problems as a result of repeated concussions.

This increased awareness has also been a driving force behind many athletic organizations, schools, and cities developing better rules, concussion protocol, and coaching techniques. For example, CSCS Partner Joseph Cammarata drafted the DC Youth Athletic Concussion Protection Act, which became law in the District of Columbia in 2011. The act, like many others being implemented across the country, helps protect young athletes from the dangers of concussions.

As a firm that has represented many brain injury victims and athletes in the DC Metro area, Chaikin, Sherman, Cammarata & Siegel, P.C. is available to help victims and families who want to learn more about their rights and options. If you would like to speak with an attorney from our firm, contact us today.