Do Helmet to Helmet Collisions Perpetuate Brain Injury Myths?

by John McKiggan

Last month Oakland Raiders wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey was on the receiving end of a crunching helmet to helmet hit that saw him unconscious on the field for ten whole minutes. While Heyward-Bey gave the crowd a “thumbs up” as he was stretchered off of the field, it comes as no surprise to anyone that he was later diagnosed with a concussion and neck strain.

Fortunately the young wide receiver is expected to make a full recovery.

If you have watched much football you have likely heard the echoing crunch that comes from a helmet on helmet collision. As a brain injury lawyer I can’t help but cringe every time I hear that noise.

New Research May Help Improve Helmets

A recent study from the U.S. Naval Academy in Maryland effectively illustrates how particularly aggressive hits to the head result in brain injuries. The researchers crashed helmets together with model brains inside of model skulls and they measured the vibrations before, during and after the collision. They created a model skull out of a plastic hoop and the brain was a brass cylinder cushioned by foam mimicking the fluid within the brain cavity. The researchers discovered that the most damage occurs when the brain hits the inside of the skull. Using the information from this type of research could lead to a re-working of future helmets so that they absorb the impact like plastic car bumpers.

Brain Injury Myths

It is obvious to anyone who watches or plays football or hockey that suffering violent blows to the head can cause a brain injury. That’s why we wear helmets right?

But I wonder if the publicity surrounding the serious head injuries that sports figures have suffered isn’t contributing, to some degree, to one of the persistent brain injury myths. I have lectured and written about the 8 Myths of Traumatic Brain Injury.

Because it is so obvious that striking your head can cause a brain injury does that mean people think that you can ONLY suffer a brain injury if you strike your head?

One of the most common myths associated with concussions and traumatic brain injuries is that you have to actually hit your head to suffer the injury. As the U.S. Naval Academy research shows, the injury is actually caused by the brain colliding with the inside of the skull. I discussed this phenomenon in a previous blog post: Traumatic Brain Injury Claims: Myth #2 You Have to Hit Your head to Suffer a Brain Injury

More research like the study coming out of Maryland will hopefully prevent injuries like the one suffered by Heyward-Bey. As much as we love to see the big hits in a tightly-contested game, nobody wants athletes suffer from traumatic brain injuries.

But in the publicity surrounding the dangers of brain injury when you hit your head, I hope we don’t lose the message that you can suffer a brain injury even when you don’t hit your head!

More Information

Using Their Heads: New Study of Athletes and Concussions

New Advances in Concussion Testing Helps Protect Athletes

Concussions and Traumatic Brain Injuries in Sport

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