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HeadSmart Labs Pilot Study Suggests Potential Safety Risk with Football Helmet Inflation

Air Leak Issue in Helmets Could Increase Player's Risk of Sustaining Head or Neck Injuries

PITTSBURGH, Aug. 26, 2014 /PRNewswire/ -- HeadSmart™Labs, a Healy Ventures LLC company, today announced preliminary findings from its pilot study on football helmet inflation. The study indicated a widespread air leak issue where Riddell brand air-bladder equipped helmets were unable to sustain inflated air pressure which could potentially pose an increased risk of concussion to athletes who wear the helmets while participating in football.

HeadSmart Labs was founded to develop new approaches, testing devices, and products that will aid in the prevention of head and neck injuries sustained by athletes who wear helmets during collision sports like American football.

In the course of conducting testing to determine the optimum air pressure for inflation of air bladders in football helmets to best reduce the transfer of impacts through the helmet, it was discovered that a significant number of helmets were unable to sustain inflated air pressure. The cause of the loss in air pressure was mainly attributed to leaky air valves on the helmets. HeadSmart Labs employed a standard, simple test to determine the source of an air leak: a mild solution of dishwashing liquid soap and water sprayed on the valves shortly after inflating the helmet to detect if air bubbles formed on the inflation valve.

"We have tested over 100 air-bladder equipped football helmets from Rawlings, Riddell, and Schutt at the collegiate and high school level, which included recently reconditioned as well as brand new, never worn helmets," said Thomas Healy, founder of HeadSmart Labs, Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) Mechanical Engineering graduate student, and NCAA student-athlete playing for the CMU Tartans football team. "We were alarmed to see that when a helmet failed to hold air pressure, in most instances it was directly caused by the valves on the helmet leaking. After several minutes or hours, many helmets had lost significant amounts of air."

During testing, helmets were initially inflated and then set aside to allow the air bladders to expand and equalize for at least 10 minutes. The lab then inflated all of the air bladders to 5PSI. From there researchers let the helmets sit for at least 30 minutes before rechecking the air pressure to determine the inflation level of each of the helmet's pads.

HeadSmart Labs found that over half of the Riddell brand helmets tested began leaking air at a significant rate once they were inflated, while only a limited number of Schutt and Rawlings helmets experienced air leak issues.

"This is extremely concerning. We had hoped to conduct further testing but we have found that teams are no longer willing to let us test their helmets because if we find that their helmets have an issue, they do not have an effective way to fix them," said Healy.

HeadSmart Labs was initially conducting testing on helmets to determine how inflation affects the dampening of impacts in helmets.  From this they found that helmet inflation alone can reduce the transfer of impacts through the helmet to the head by up to 30 percent.

"By using National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment (NOCSAE) style testing, we have seen that by simply inflating the helmet, we can significantly lessen impacts to the head," Healy said. "Many football helmets worn by players today, from Pop Warner to the NFL, are already air-bladder equipped but the technology needs to work correctly and be utilized to be effective."

Regardless of helmet brand, Healy recommends either players, parents and/or coaches check the air pressure in helmets each time it is being used. To help identify if inflation valves are the source of leaks, HeadSmart Labs suggests:

  • Place helmet on player's head and inflate it per manufacturer's suggestions.
  • Once inflated to a snug fit, and while on player's head, take a mixture of mild soap and water and drip some over each of the valves on the helmet. If the solution bubbles up then the valve is leaking air.
  • Helmets can also leak air though the air pads so it is important to monitor inflation pressures and make sure the helmet remains properly inflated.

If it is discovered that a player's helmet is unable to adequately maintain air pressure, HeadSmart Labs recommends the issue be brought to the attention of the helmet manufacturer, team equipment manager, and/or coaching staff for appropriate resolution. HeadSmart Labs has filed a report of the preliminary findings with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission for further investigation.

HeadSmart Labs has developed the SMART Helmet Safety Checklist and suggests players follow it on a frequent basis, (download at www.HeadSmartLabs.com).  

HeadSmart Labs is participating in NineSigma's GE NFL Head Health Grand Challenge, a $10M program seeking solutions that produce advancements in preventing, measuring and detecting brain injury, innovative brain protective materials and devices, and training methods that result in behavior modifications.

About HeadSmart™ Labs, a Healy Ventures LLC company 
HeadSmart™ Labs is a research company founded by Thomas Healy to develop new approaches, testing devices, and products to aid in the prevention of head injuries from impact sports where helmets are required. HeadSmart Labs is currently working with researchers from Carnegie Mellon University, and student athletes from Carnegie Mellon's football team, to develop these products. www.HeadSmartLabs.com

Media Contact:
Matt McCarthy
Warner Communications
617-302-5669; [email protected]  

SOURCE HeadSmart Labs

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