Perhaps the biggest issue surrounding the game of football concerns head injuries, specifically concussions. A study conducted by top concussion researchers concluded that football helmets can be designed to reduce the risk of concussions within the game.

The six-year study analyzed head impact data compiled from eight collegiate football teams: Virginia Tech, University of North Carolina, University of Oklahoma, Dartmouth College, Brown University, University of Minnesota, Indiana University, and University of Illinois. Data collected between 2005 and 2010 came from helmets—worn by 1833 players—equipped with sensors to measure the biomechanics of over one million head impacts. All players wore a Riddell VSR4 or Riddell Revolution helmet. Researchers compared the concussion rates between the two helmet types.

Sensors in the helmets measured head acceleration for each impact experienced by the players. Results revealed a 54% reduction in concussion risk for players wearing the Revolution helmets compared to players in the VSR4. Players with VSR4 helmets experienced higher head accelerations due to impact than those who wore Revolution helmets. Researchers attribute this to the Revolution helmets’ ability to better modulate the energy transfer from the impact to the head, resulting in lower head accelerations. Lower head accelerations, in turn, reduces the risk of concussion.

Authors of the study’s paper, led by Steve Rowson, assistant professor in the Virginia Tech—Wake Forest School of Biomedical Engineering and Sciences, stress that no helmet will ever be able will ever be able to prevent all concussions.

“While some helmets will reduce risk more than others, no helmet can eliminate risk,” says co-author Stefan Duma, head of the Virginia Tech—Wake Forest School of Biomedical Engineering and Sciences. “The most effective strategies are altering league rules and teaching players better techniques. These strategies focus on reducing the number of head impacts that players experience.

“However, head impacts in football will always occur, even with the best rules and technique,” adds Duma. “This is where improving helmet design to best reduce concussion risk becomes critical. Our data clearly demonstrate that this is possible.”

The study was published in the Journal of Neurosurgery.