A new study has found that football helmets are not as protective as previously thought. The study found that football helmets do little to protect the sides of the head from impact. Researchers at the American Academy of Neurology ran extensive tests that involves placing sensors in crash test dummies to determine the ability of 10 leading football helmets to protect against brain injuries during 12 mile-per-hour impacts.

Researchers performed 330 tests. Helmet models tested were the Adams a2000, Rawlings Quantum, Riddell 360, Riddell Revolution, Riddell Revolution Speed, Riddell VSR4, Schutt Air Advantage, Schutt DNA Pro+, Xenith X1 and Xenith X2.

The study found that on average, risk of brain injury was reduced by only 20 percent compared to those not wearing a helmet, specifically when the impact came on the side of the head (rotational force). The model that provided the most protection against a concussion was the Adams a2000, while the Schutt Air Advantage provided the least. However, when the impact came from straight ahead, or linear, the helmets reduced the risk of skull fracture by 60 to 70 percent, and the risk of brain tissue bruising by 70 to 80 percent.

The study was completed February 17, and the findings were announced at the American Academy of Neurology (AAN) in the spring. Research is considered preliminary until it is published in a peer-reviewed journal. Study co-author Dr. Frank Conidi, director of the Florida Center for Headache and Sports Neurology and assistant clinical professor of neurology at Florida State University College of Medicine issued a statement in a AAN news release. Dr. Conidi said, “Protection against concussion and complications of brain injury is especially important for young players, including elementary and middle school, high school and college athletes, whose still-developing brains are more susceptible to the lasting effects of trauma.”

Conidi asserted that it is important for the athlete’s safety to understand the protection provided from rotational impact in addition to linear impact. Dr. Conidi, who is also the vice chair of the AAN’s sports neurology section, said “Biomechanics researchers have long understood that rotational forces, not linear forces, are responsible for serious brain damage including concussion, brain injury complications and brain bleeds. Yet generations of football and other sports participants have been under the assumption that their brains are protected by their investment in headwear protection.”