Virginia Tech Five STAR Football Helmet Database Online

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True to their word, Virginia Tech engineer Stefan Duma and his research assistants have released the results of a new rating system of adult football helmets that is designed to reduce the risk of concussions. Back in February they announced their pledge to create a data base using the information collected on head impacts of football players and make it public by May.

The first-of-its-kind online searchable database features 10 adult football helmet models for the May 2011 release. All were rated using the STAR evaluation system. Currently about 25 different adult-size helmets are manufactured by six companies.

One currently manufactured helmet received the top "5 star" rating, and a total of five helmets received the very good "4-star" rating.

Duma and his research assistants collected data over an eight year period quantifying head impact exposure and risk of concussion. The STAR value for each helmet model is derived from 120 impacts on each helmet model at multiple locations and impact energies. A total of three new helmets were purchased for each model and tested to determine the STAR, an acronym for the Summation of Tests for the Analysis of Risk value. The STAR value is the calculated incidence of concussion for one season of full participation at a collegiate level.

The STAR value combines exposure with concussion risk as measured from the head acceleration results from this standards committee's style impact tests. Each helmet is tested at four impact locations (front, back, side, and top) at five different impact drop heights ranging from 12 inches to 60 inches.

The testing data showed that the overall best helmet currently available to the public is the Riddell Revolution Speed, which earned the only "5-star" rating.

The next category includes five very good performing helmets that were all given a "4-star" rating: Schutt ION 4D, Schutt DNA Pro+, Xenith X1, Riddell Revolution, and Riddell Revolution IQ.

Duma stated, "Our goal was to develop a thorough test matrix that would provide consumers with valuable biomechanical data in order to make educated decisions about which helmet to purchase."

"The results clearly show that the newer technologies across all manufacturers are significantly better at reducing the risk of concussions compared to the older models," Duma added. The dataset for football helmets is the first installation in the National Impact Database that will cover many sports when fully implemented.

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"A unique aspect of the STAR system is that it weights each impact height to a corresponding number of impacts a player would see through the course of one season at that severity level. Depending on how the helmet performs, a risk is associated with each impact height," Duma said.

Overall, the cost of the helmet showed little correlation to the relative protection offered by it. All helmets ranged from $160 to $300. One of the 4-star rated helmets is one of the cheapest: the Schutt DNA Pro +.

"This highlights the problems for consumers and was a key motivator for us to release the data. Performance is not directly related to cost and now consumers can make decisions based on independent data characterizing the biomechanical performance of these helmets," said Duma.

The research and database is already making an impact. Duma noted “Many of the 2010 Virginia Tech football team players used VSR4 helmets and had them through spring ball in April 2011.”

If you check the database, the Riddell VSR4 helmet has a marginal rating of '1-star' and is the second lowest rated helmet.

"Once we finalized the numbers, my first call was to our head team physician Gunnar Brolinson and our head team trainer Mike Goforth. We all agreed that we had to change out the helmets immediately," Duma said. "For the fall 2011 season, our players that had VSR4s will be in the Revolution Speed helmets."

The lowest rating assigned was "NR" meaning not recommended, and that label was given to the Adams A2000 Pro Elite helmet. "The resulting STAR value of 1.7 was significantly higher than all other helmets and several of the impacts resulted in values that are close to the threshold for skull fractures," said Rowson. "For the same price that we paid, there are many other helmets that are much better," he added.

Duma states, "I strongly recommend players purchase one of the 5-star or 4-star helmets as their performance is significantly better than the others."

A manuscript detailing the methodology has been peer reviewed and accepted for publication by the Annals of Biomedical Engineering.

Sources
Virginia Tech Press Release (May 10, 2011)
National Impact Database: Adult Football Helmet Ratings; Virginia Tech, May 2011
Making an impact in football; Sarah Bruyn Jones, Roanoke Times, Feb 10, 2011

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