When football helmets were introduced, they immediately accomplished their primary goal: they all but eliminated open-head injuries from the sport. Since then, they have been considerably updated, but new research suggests that they may be inadequate to protect against the primary head injury of concern in the NFL and amateurs alike: concussions.
Concussions are a huge concern in the NFL in recent years since it has come out that the lingering effects of concussion can be a major health risk for current and former players, along with sleep apnea, which is also prevalent among NFL players. In fact, a concussion scare may be part of the reason why the Broncos didn’t re-sign star receiver Wes Welker when his contract expired last season–and the free agent remains unsigned, although there are many rumors circulating.
Unfortunately, new research suggests that football helmets just aren’t being properly designed to protect against concussions, and the League’s testing methods don’t show why.
Concussions Are a Different Kind of Head Injury
A concussion is a different kind of head injury from open-head traumas. Instead of being caused by a single jolt to the head and brain, it’s related to the multiple jolts that the brain undergoes whenever the head experiences trauma.
The head is hard, so it will hit a physical obstacle and stop or rebound once, but the brain is a soft tissue, floating in a gelatinous fluid. At a minimum, the brain will strike the front of the skull, then rebound and strike the back of the skull, and it may actually experience multiple collisions before coming to a rest.
The brain’s collisions within the skull can be worsened when the head itself is experiencing multiple impacts which cause it to move back and forth. Stanford researchers determined that the maximum amplification of brain damage within the skull occurred when the head was being buffeted back and forth at about 20 Hz. According to data collected from mouthguards that had built in accelerometers, this speed of impact is common in football hits.
Helmet Tests Don’t Account for Concussions
Researchers at Stanford then looked at the standard tests for football helmets, which they found didn’t reproduce field conditions at all. The standard test for NFL (and NCAA) football helmets involves the drop of a dummy head in a helmet from various heights to simulate impacts of different velocities.
This test produced head motions at the frequency of 100 Hz, and didn’t simulate the rotational, multidimensional acceleration that is experienced in real-world collisions. Researchers cautioned that optimizing helmets to perform well on these tests would not protect against concussions, perhaps no more than mouthguards do.
Concussions, Post-Concussion Syndrome, and TMJ
Understanding what makes concussions different hopefully helps you understand how you can get a concussion without actually hitting your head. In a car accident or other serious jolt–such as being tackled in football–your brain can be bounced around and suffer injury even if you didn’t hit your head.
Although you might recover quickly from a concussion, you may also develop post-concussion syndrome, which can result in headaches, dizziness, fatigue, irritability, loss of concentration and memory, and noise and light sensitivity similar to migraines.
However, you may also develop TMJ in a similar situation. The forces can put adverse strain on your jaw joint and disrupt the jaw system, setting muscles, bones, and cartilage at odds. TMJ symptoms you might experience include headaches, too, but are distinct from post-concussion because they may include jaw pain, tinnitus, and popping or clicking of the jaw joint.
If you suspect that you might have suffered TMJ as a result of an accident or injury, please call (303) 691-0267 for an appointment with a Denver TMJ dentist at the TMJ Therapy & Sleep Center of Colorado.