A Pentagon study looking for ways to reduce the incidence of traumatic brain injuries for American troops, comparing the effectiveness of different kinds of military helmets as well as two designs of helmets worn in the NFL, led to a surprisingly simple finding: Making helmets slightly bigger by adding one-eighth of an inch of padding can make the people wearing the helmets significantly less susceptible to brain injuries.
That may lead to a change in the design of the helmets given to American soldiers, and the study could also provide useful information to the NFL. The researchers found that NFL helmets didn’t work as well as military helmets because they were more rigid and allowed force to be transferred to the head. Army helmets were found to absorb a larger amount of the force.
However, the unclassified version of the full report (PDF here) notes that military helmets and football helmets aren’t necessarily designed to protect against the same types of injuries. The study doesn’t necessarily find that the NFL should follow military guidelines on helmet designs.
“[I]n many football-relevant impact scenarios, the entire body mass of the player is driving the head into another object, and hence the impact energy that the pads must absorb may be greater,” the report says. “This could explain why the NFL pads tend to be both thicker and harder than the pads developed for the Army—they are designed for a different type of impact.”
So the study’s findings aren’t as simple as just recommending that the NFL make the padding in its helmets thicker. But as the NFL continues to make prevention of brain injuries on the field a high priority, these are the kinds of results that demand more research.