Wednesday, January 20, 2010

New helmets with injury biomechanics built in....

Your helmet protects your head, but what about your neck?

Whether you’re on a football field, in a boxing ring or on a race car track, you wear a helmet to protect your head from concussions and other brain injuries.

But what about your neck?

Today's helmets are extremely effective at protecting their wearers against head injuries in a collision. However, their design does not protect the wearer against neck and spinal cord injury in a head-first impact.

Estimating the number of cervical spine injuries from head-first impacts while wearing a helmet in sports is not straightforward.

However, because they are so debilitating and there is no cure for consequences of spinal cord injury, prevention is of utmost importance, especially if prevention can be offered through a helmet that is the same size and configuration as a common helmet.

A helmet under development in British Columbia answers that question with excellent engineering that allows the head to respond in a different way when it’s impacted head-first.

The new helmet being developed by researchers in the Injury Biomechanics Laboratory at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, has an outer shell that looks like most helmets available today, connected to a rotating inner shell that hugs the head.

In head-first impacts, the neck has to stop the motion of the torso immediately after the head stops, and often, the combination of the torso mass and speed can exceed the strength of the neck, leading to a broken neck. An injury to the spinal cord can lead to permanent paralysis.

"injury to the spinal cord results in a complete and irreversible loss of mobility and sensation in large areas of the body in up to 45% of all cases"

A lot of progress has been made to protect athletes from injury to the head, torso, and limbs through the use of helmets and padding. However, injury to the neck is still a serious problem in sports such as football and hockey.

Neck protection devices designed to prevent injuries from excessive motion of the head due to inertial loading in race car collisions, such as the HANS device, have been successful in the prevention of certain injuries to the neck.

However one dangerous mode of neck loading, axial compression arising from head-first impacts, remains unprotected in sports such as hockey, mountain biking, football, horseback riding, skiing and snow boarding. While these injuries are rare, they frequently lead to paralysis and a significant loss of quality-of-life for its sufferers. There is presently no cure for this type of paralysis.

Hence, injury prevention is of the utmost importance in these sports. Progress towards prevention has been made through rules that banned head-first tackling in football and checking from behind in hockey. We believe that further advances in prevention in any scenario where head-first impact happens to a helmeted player can be made.

There is an engineered safety device (the helmet) already in place in many sports which could have its role extended to prevent the neck injury. This is the concept embodied by the new helmet.

The spinal cord is one of the most sensitive and important structures in the human body. The cord contains thousands of nerves that connect organs and muscles in the lower body with the brain and cerebellum. There is much research being done to improve clinical outcomes from spinal cord injury but there is currently no definitive treatment or cure for it.

Injury to the spinal cord results in a complete and irreversible loss of mobility and sensation in large areas of the body in up to 45% of all cases. This is especially the case for spinal cord injuries at the neck or cervical level, where injuries can lead to the paralysis of both arms and legs.

Even though the cervical spinal cord is protected by vertebrae throughout the neck, these vertebrae are relatively weaker than those further down the spine, and most spinal cord injuries occur in this cervical region.

The high speeds and contact forces that make many of today's sports so demanding and exciting are also responsible for the large number of spinal cord injuries amongst players of all skill levels in many sports.

Just being aware of the new helmet and then procuring them to protect themselves, will go a long way in reassuring the users of the safety built into this incredible helmet..


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