When rhinos charge each other, their heavy skulls protect them from serious damage. But football players must rely on helmets that may not prevent concussion or other serious head injuries that may occur. To improve the odds of a safer helmet, researchers at Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, analyzed six years of head impact data collected between 2005 and 2010 from eight collegiate football teams using two types of helmets fitted with sensors to measure the biomechanics of over 1 million head impacts.

All players either wore a Riddell VSR4 or Riddell Revolution helmet. The researchers compared the rates of concussion between the two helmet types. They reported a 54 percent reduction in concussion risk for players in the Riddell Revolution compared to players in the VSR4 helmet.

This is the first study to control for the number of times players hit their heads when comparing helmet types, they said. Controlling for head impacts allows you to compare apples to apples.

The sensors in the helmets measured head acceleration for each impact players experienced. Players in the VSR4 helmets experienced higher head accelerations resulting from impact than players in Revolution helmets.

The researchers attribute this to the Revolution helmets better modulating the energy transfer from the impact to the head, which results in lower head accelerations. Helmets that better lower head acceleration reduce concussion risk, they said.

They stress that no helmet will ever be able to prevent all concussions. Better helmet design is just one of many strategies that play a role in reducing concussions in football.