BLACKBURG , Virginia (KARE) — A new study by researchers at Virginia Tech’s College of Engineering suggests that a quarter of hockey helmets on the market might be unsafe and may need a major safety makeover.
Just like it did with football helmets four years ago, Virginia Tech measured more than 30 models of hockey helmets for their ability to reduce the risk of concussions. Researchers performed impact testing and measured the forces known to lead to concussions and then rated the helmets using a five-star system.
According to Virginia Tech, the higher the number of stars a hockey helmet received based on its calculations, the more the helmet can cushion a hockey-related impact and reduce the risk of concussions.
The findings have been published in the April 2015 issue of the Annals of Biomedical Engineering. The helmet models tested and their corresponding star rating are also listed here: Virginia Tech Helmet Ratings
Among the findings:
· Nine of the helmets Virginia Tech tested received no stars at all.
· The highest rating – 3 stars – went to one helmet.
· No helmet received five stars.
Dr. Stefan Duma, head of Virginia Tech’s Department of Biomedical Engineering and Mechanics, spearheaded both the football helmet and hockey helmet studies.
“Head to head, head to ice – these are very high-level impacts,” said Duma about the types of impacts a hockey player might experience.
Duma pointed out that the design of hockey helmets hasn’t changed much over the years. Hockey helmets have a hard plastic outer shell but remain relatively thin compared to football helmets, although many manufacturers have been working on new designs and technologies to improve helmet safety.
“In a general sense, hockey helmets are smaller. They have less padding,” Duma said.
When it comes to preventing concussions, Virginia Tech researchers said their testing, which included measuring impacts on real hockey players and then re-creating those impacts in the lab, shows no hockey helmet on the market is performing at Virginia Tech’s 5-star level.
Researchers tested each helmet in four directions and performed more than 2,000 impact tests.
Duma said helmets that received zero stars in Virginia Tech’s testing are not recommended for use at all. He said he hopes the new research leads to new helmets entering the marketplace with improved erformance.
“Concussions are brought about by acceleration – a combination of both linear and rotational. If you lower those accelerations, you lower your risk,” Duma said.
Like the football helmet rating system developed by Virginia Tech, the hockey helmet rating system is likely to draw both applause and criticism.
In a statement released Monday Reebok-CCM, a major hockey helmet manufacturer, said it is committed to player safety and investing in research and development to “bring innovative technology to the market.” The company also said it welcomes any research to help improve the safety of players but is “seeking full understanding of the Virginia Tech model” and how it compares to “existing standards in the industry.”
Bauer, the other big helmet manufacturer, echoed Reebok-CCM, explaining that “every Bauer hockey helmet in the marketplace is the result of many years of extensive scientific research” and the company stands “behind all of our helmets.”
The Virginia Tech study found that some of the most expensive helmets on the market today, made by industry leaders like Bauer and CCM, received the lowest star ratings.
But is a star rating enough to understand how to reduce the risk of concussions in hockey?
“Applying science to hockey helmets is important,” said Dr. Michael Stuart with the Mayo Clinic.
Stuart is also chief medical officer for USA Hockey and the International Ice Hockey Federation. He works with Olympic hockey teams and has three pro-player sons.
“The biggest concern I’ve had for years with hockey helmets is they don’t stay on the head very well,” Stuart said.
While newer models are more adjustable, hockey helmets – like football helmets – are good Stuart said, at preventing skull fractures, but as designed today have limited impact on concussion risk.
“Probably not a very effective piece of equipment to actually reduce or prevent concussion,” Stuart said.
The Mayo Clinic has also researched hockey helmets in an effort to understand the mechanics of what is still largely a mysterious injury, developing new diagnosis and treatment techniques.
Stuart and the Mayo team have also publicly pushed for rule changes.
Today, any hit to the head is a penalty across USA Hockey and no legal body checking is allowed until bantam level play.
Stuart said changing attitudes and behavior on the ice, combined with improved body strength and control, plus better equipment will lead to fewer concussions. Helmets alone are not the solution and Stuart cautioned parents about relying solely on a helmet star-rating system to protect their players.
“We can’t lose sight of the fact that it is a very complex puzzle and we need to think about all the pieces,” he said.