You would think that modern football helmets — the ones made out of polycarbonate with foam padding — are vastly superior to the leatherheads of yesteryear, but a new study found that leather football helmets perform just as well if not better in some collisions.
With head injuries from collision sports having more attention paid to them, a study was conducted by the biomedical lab of Cleveland Clinic to evaluate the different between modern and old-fashioned helmets.
Science Daily reports that the researchers simulated and analyzed hits similar to those that would happen in practice and on game day. The findings were that in most cases the two helmets performed equally as well, with leather helmets outperforming modern helmets in some instances.
“The point of this study is not to advocate for a return to leather helmets but, rather, to test the notion that modern helmets must be more protective than older helmets simply because ‘newer must be better,’” said lead researcher Adam Bartsch, Ph.D., Director of the Spine Research Lab in Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Spine Health, said in the clinic’s news release. “Unlike cars, in which seat belts, airbags and crumple zones make the choice between a 1920′s Model T and modern mini-van a no-brainer, these results tell us that modern helmets have ample room to improve safety against many typical game-like hits.”
“Today’s safety standards are no longer state-of-the-art predictors of injury,” said Edward Benzel, MD, Chair of Cleveland Clinic’s Department of Neurological Surgery. “Of course, preventing skull fractures is vitally important, but concussion prevention needs to be an integral part of the standards as well. Also, helmets need to protect against the cumulative effects of multiple lower impact blows that may not lead to a concussion immediately but may add up to cause severe long-term head, neck or brain injuries.”
The researchers found that while modern helmets and helmet standards are effective for neck and spinal cord protection and in high-impact collisions, they are not as safe as thought for receptive mild to moderate collisions. The researchers suggest standards and helmet testing focus their efforts beyond just high-impact collisions.