WEDNESDAY, April 13 (HealthDay News) -- A new report suggests
that researchers should explore ways to redesign football helmets
to reduce the risk of brain hemorrhage after a collision, a rare
occurrence but one that could kill a player.
In recent years, football organizations and the media have
largely focused on the risk for concussions during games,
especially in light of evidence that they can lead to permanent
brain damage. Bleeding in the brain has received less
Dr. Jonathan A. Forbes, a resident in neurosurgery at Vanderbilt
University and lead author of the new report, said that the
research findings suggest that "it's worth taking a new look at the
safety of helmets."
Since 1945, more than 350 football players wearing helmets have
died of bleeding in the brain after collisions, according to the
report. However, deaths directly due to incidents on the football
field have become rare in recent decades. Four deaths were reported
in 2007, according to an annual survey, compared with 36 in 1968,
while more than 600 were reported from 1931 to 1965.
For reasons that aren't clear, the most serious head injuries
are about three times more common among high school football
players than college athletes. It's rare to hear about brain
bleeding in a pro football player, Forbes said.
Football helmets prevent injury by spreading the force of a
collision around the head, Forbes said. In the new study, the
researchers looked at something called rotational acceleration, a
reference to how a blow pushes the head around, like when a boxer
is punched in the side of the face.
Tests of helmet safety focus on something else, known as
translational acceleration -- a reference to pushing the head back
and forth or side to side -- because it's been linked to fractures
of the head, Forbes explained. But, he said, research suggests that
brain bleeding is significantly linked to rotational
The findings "present some evidence that maybe we should start
paying more attention to rotational acceleration," he said. "We're
not trying to say that everything should be changed. We're saying
these events of catastrophic head injury strongly correlate with
peak levels of rotational acceleration," Forbes explained.
"Future research should take that into consideration, and maybe we should consider making sure that helmets prevent these dangerous levels of rotational acceleration," Forbes said.
The report's findings were scheduled to be presented Wednesday
in Denver at a meeting of the American Association of Neurological
Surgeons. Experts note that research presented at meetings has not
been subjected to the same type of rigorous scrutiny given to
research published in peer-reviewed medical journals.
Dr. Michael L. Levy, a professor of pediatric neurosurgery at
the University of California, San Diego, said it's important to
think about improving helmets, "but I don't know of anybody who has
a conception of what you could do to a helmet to make it more
protective against these types of injuries."
Levy, who has treated National Football League players and other
athletes with head injuries, asked, "What would you do? What you're
talking is something completely different than what we're dealing
with now: It's not just increasing the padding or hardening the
helmet. There's something else that needs to be done."
The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons has more on
preventing football injuries.