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Helmet designs trying to keep pace with brain injury science

The preponderance of brain injuries among football players has led to at least one positive: innovative companies experimenting with designs for safer helmets. Until recently, the basic design of the football helmet had changed little since leather caps gave way to the familiar plastic shell with foam padding several decades ago.

One company has made a helmet cover called the Guardian that contains dozens of gel-filled pouches. The cover fits on the outside of the helmet and helps to disperse some of the impact from helmet-to-helmet collisions. One high school used the helmets in practices last season -- coaches were unsure if they were game-legal -- and brain-injury symptom incidents among players dropped from about a dozen the season before to zero.

Another new helmet known as the Bulwark has multiple exterior plates on the helmet rather than a single continuous shell. This design is also designed to better absorb the impact of football collisions both great and small.

A Brazilian neuroscientist has a more dramatic idea, which has been dubbed the Thermocrown. It is a bladder that fits inside a player's existing helmet. In the event of a head injury, the bladder can be inflated with cooling gas that can lower the temperature of a player's head in an attempt to limit brain damage.

As useful as these innovations may turn out to be, many former players will have to deal with the effects of the traumatic brain injuries they have already received for the rest of their lives. Lawsuits filed against helmet manufacturers and the National Football League are good indicators that these issues will be at the forefront of brain injury discussions for years to come.

Source: Reuters, "Football turns to helmet technology to tackle head injuries," Scott Malone, April 2, 2012

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